Letter to the Editor: 10-10-14

We launched Unseen, our anonymous photo sharing app, at Murray State in mid-September. It’s been great to see students quickly fill the feed with photos and comments. After reading an op-ed piece by a Murray State student raising concerns about sexism in anonymous social media, we reached out to TheNews.org. We feel this to be important because we completely understand where the writer is coming from.

But while we realize how the unfiltered nature could make a first scroll through the app off-putting to some, we want to take this opportunity to let students know about the vision we have for Unseen and why we believe that anonymity can actually be a force for good.

College is a distinct period of time in a young person’s life because it is the first time most students have lived away from the community they grew up in. Surrounded by their peers and out of their parents’ home, it’s part of the typical college narrative that students go a little crazy with sex, drinking, caffeine and ramen noodles. But on a more serious note, college is also the first time many students live and study among people who are different from them; the first time they have to make important financial decisions by taking out loans; the first time they are challenged to think about radical ideas and global problems. There’s a lot happening on college campuses, and not all of it is Facebook-friendly. But if something isn’t suitable for a status update, does that mean that it shouldn’t be shared?

We don’t think so. We believe there are meaningful connections to be made and unique experiences to be shared in anonymous spaces, and we want to build a community where students can do this free from the highly-publicized pressures of an online identity. There are lots of reasons why a woman might want to post a picture of her body on a public forum. For validation, feedback, to look for new sexual partners — and these are all perfectly reasonable and relatable.    And frankly, men post nude pictures to Unseen with the same motives. We don’t think this is crazy. In fact, we think that the ability to show your body without shame or social repercussions should be something to celebrate. Sometimes we have embarrassing questions. Sometimes we have bad ideas. Sometimes we’re lonely or depressed or angry and just need a place to go to that isn’t going to latch onto our words and add them to an ever-increasing digital footprint.

Anonymity allows people to communicate honestly, in ways they’d never dream of on public profiles associated with their identity. But as strongly as we believe in the innumerable benefits of anonymity, we are fully aware that it gives way for hateful, seedy and otherwise problematic content. We do moderate to protect our users from malicious activity, but ultimately we believe that Unseen should be an honest reflection of the community it serves — racism, sexism, homophobia and all. But just as anonymity makes people feel safe to say hurtful and bigoted things, it also empowers people to speak up against hate. All of us in the Unseen office have been touched time and time again to see that often the majority of comments on posts that perpetuate hate and discrimination come from those who do not think that these viewpoints are acceptable. After all, this is your community and you do have the power to shape it. If someone voices an opinion that you find offensive, speak out. If you want something to disappear from the feed, bury it under better content. We don’t believe that an anonymous community is one where users have no accountability for what they say. On the contrary, we believe that anonymity can build a new sense of social responsibility that isn’t defined by shame, political correctness or self-censorship. In Unseen, Murray State can see a candid reflection of itself. If what you see upsets you, then you’ve got work to do.

Letter from Michael Schramm, CEO and co-founder of Unseen, Austin, Tx.