August 6, 2014
It’s no secret that I dislike Secret. Just this week I had a crisis of existence when I found myself agreeing with Sarah Lacy on the topic. Many of my friends have suffered severe emotional damage as a result of defamations posted on the service: it’s not pretty. But more importantly, it seems clear to me this is only the start. You see, I agree with Sarah that Secret will take lives. Not directly, of course. But perhaps in the hands of a bullying teen picking on a severely depressed peer. And maybe that post — that secret, that was the last thing, the thing that made them decide they could no longer stand the world, and led to them taking their life. Their suicide probably would have happened with or without Secret — but I know that Secret will be cited as the last straw for suicides if it continues to grow. It’s about as guaranteed as teens using Snapchat to send nude pictures to each other. Good thing that can’t happen.
I wonder if they’ll publish their suicide note on Secret too?
I admit that this is an opinion, and a fairly hyperbolic one at that. Secret’s champions claim the service will overcome the darker nature of humans with technology and moderation. It’s completely possible that they will be able to solve this problem. But if the history of online message boards has anything to say, at minimum, this will be an incredibly difficult task (disproving the standard model of the greater internet fuckwad theory). Still, I do admit it is possible. After all, it’s important to take risks to move forward.
risk — incur the chance of unfortunate consequences by engaging in (an action)
You can risk many things in life. You can risk your health by climbing a mountain, risk a friendship by revealing a secret, or risk over-cooking your steak by leaving it on the grill in search of the perfect sear. We usually talk about this in terms of risk/reward. What are you willing to risk to claim a given potential reward? Investors most often risk money for more money.
It is possible that Secret may overcome all challenges and become an service of support, transparency, and community. It is also possible that Secret may have unfortunate consequences, which is how we quantify risk.
Secret may become a tool for libel and defamation, spreading damaging false information about people.
In fact, Secret has already suffered from these problems, and is already an established tool for bullying and libel. Okay, so what? So what if it’s a tool for bullying and libel? What of it?
Bullying causes depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Defamation of character can harm people’s reputation, costing them personally, professionally, and financially. Defamation often also causes mental and physical anguish.
In rare cases, a small fraction of those bullied retaliate through extremely violent measures (ex: in 12 of 15 school shootings in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied).
The most notable theme across all of these effects is the anguish and suffering of human beings. This is the most important potential consequence of Secret (and if you ask me & Occam’s razor, pretty fucking likely).
And what happens
if Secret gets compromised and all those secrets… aren’t? What happens when a Secret employee feels a little curious and starts looking into who authored that juicy post? All of these scenarios are likely, and would result in even worse bullying and defamation.
By my moral compass, this risk is far too high. I’m not comfortable ruining anyone’s life, even if they’re a minority of “unintended usage”.
You’re risking our well-being for a couple of bucks — will you do us a favor in return? I am asking you, the investors of Secret, to raise $25 million USD for The Ocean Cleanup (the amount of money in Secret’s last round of funding). I have personally donated to the project, and I would love to see the pilot realized. He’s only asking for $2M, but I’d love to see what he could do with $25M. Because even if this attempt doesn’t work, it’s become clear to me that Boyan has the passion required to keep at this problem.
By funding Secret, you seem comfortable risking the anguish and suffering of human beings for the potential of more money, so you must have a lot of extra money you don’t care about. This is why I think it’s fair to ask you to risk some of your money for potentially cleaner oceans and a healthier planet in return. I know you see money differently than we do. You have lots of it, and you can always make more — it’s a game to be played. And I understand that VCs are rarely personally funding companies — but I’m asking you to use your fundraising skills to get Boyan the funding he deserves. Raising money is your expertise, and you’re really good at it.
Besides, wouldn’t it be cool to see a new type of business succeed — one that profits from improving the environment? If I was a person interested in creating new businesses, I’d think it would be pretty cool.
Maybe you won’t do it. Maybe you can’t do it. I’m not sure, but I need to ask. I’m saddened to see people like you give money to companies that risk human well-being while we ignore the planet we’re killing around us. It seems you’d rather risk the anguish of humans just to earn some money. Money that could be used to invest in the health of our world. And I can’t believe that’s true. I believe you know the impact of your funding and care that your work really does contribute to society in a positive manner.
Can we try something cool?
If you’re a product designer reading this, consider watching Mike Monteiro’s excellent How Designers Destroyed the World talk from Webstock. This is me speaking up.
If you'd like to keep in touch, I tweet @kneath on Twitter. You're also welcome to send a polite email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't always get the chance to respond, but email is always the best way to get in touch.
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