This is why we can’t have nice things! Less than six months after the PostSecret iPhone app went live, founder Frank Warren has announced that he’s pulling it because of persistent, asshole (our word, not his) users who posted secrets that were “not just pornographic but also gruesome and at times threatening.”
When we spoke with Frank back in September, he explained that the appeal of the app was to communicate secrets that were more digital, as well as to tag where each secret came from so the posters would feel more connected to each other even though they were still anonymous.
Unfortunately, it was the anonymity that built the original PostSecret into the movement it is, which led to the current trouble. “99% of the secrets created were in the spirit of PostSecret,” Frank reassured readers in his announcement on the official site, but even that 1% was material that threatened and harassed other users. This created an intensely negative environment full of bullies—horribly ironic for a project meant to bring people together.
Though he wouldn’t go into too much detail, here’s what he did divulge:
Bad content caused users to complain to me, Apple and the FBI. I was contacted by law enforcement about bad content on the App. Threats were made against users, moderators and my family. (Two specific threats were made that I am unable to talk about). As much as we tried, we were unable to maintain a bully-free environment. Weeks ago I had to remove the App from my daughter’s phone.
Like many of you, I feel a great sense of loss from this decision but please know that we fought hard behind the scenes to find a permanent solution. We even tried prescreening 30,000 secrets a day. Deciding to remove the App from the App Store last week and holding back the release of the Android version cost us money but we feel it was the right thing to do.
To the vast majority of people who shared their earnest secrets and compassionate replies on the App, you inspired us with your honesty, humor and humanity. Even though this good faith experiment has come to an end what you shared lives on.
MSNBC points out that the $2 app did suggest that users under 17 not download it because some of the content submitted would feature “frequent/intense” sexual content, realistic violence, and matter-of-fact drug use. But so did the site, so the entries that broke the camel’s back must have been targeted at specific users or needlessly cruel.
To add insult to injury, Frank included with his blog post an e-mail exchange about how the app helped make someone’s Christmas morning. Long story short, a woman ordered a ballerina music box for her daughter, but it got delivered to the wrong address and those people kept it. Another reader, having seen the secret via the app, was able to get in touch with the poor mother and send her a brand-new music box.
Without the app, that Christmas miracle could not have happened in time for Christmas morning. So, it was never all bad.