Abuse on social media platforms is an ongoing phenomena, one that’s largely a product of instant, easy access to hurl one’s thoughts or beliefs at a complete stranger. Twitter has earned a top spot in the public eye for rampant harassment that too frequently goes unchecked. Other online communities such as Reddit, have been criticized for nurturing the dark underbelly of human interaction, one that often veers into creepy, discriminatory, or misogynistic territory.
But while mainstream social media platforms tackle increased abuse on their sites, a new app Hyper may have already figured out the secret to creating a space with controversial content but little abuse.
According to Hyper’s co-creator Dan Frieber, a Brooklyn-based designer and developer, it all comes down to with whom users surround themselves or become surrounded by — the audience, or in social media, followers.
“If you look at the social networks that dominate that sphere, they’re all follower based. And that’s fine for people who want to build audiences around their content. But they become the same audience. Do people want to let the content speak for itself or do people want to engage?” Frieber said.
Hyper, which comes out of beta May 5, aims to be an Instagram-Reddit hybrid where users share pictures with one another within a certain topic space. The app allows users, aged 17 and up, to comment and like photos that populate its Reddit-esque forums under topics like #gamers or #tattoos, the more risque #sexy or #secrets where people expose intimate details about their insecurities and private lives.
People come to Hyper to share their private moments, an embarrassing thought or lonely truth, and “they don’t have to attach this to an intimate profile, they don’t have to worry about friends or family seeing it,” Frieber said.
Apps such as Yik Yak, Whisper and the now defunct Secret, have all been condemned for excessive bullying. Frieber believes that tendency is ingrained in an app’s design.
“The system of voting that we have actually takes care of the bullying comments, and if it gets out of control, we get rid of it,” through moderation, he said. “You hear about Yik Yak, you hear about Whisper and their bullying problem. Yik Yak deals with bullying because of what the audience is: It’s geo-based so there’s shared knowledge between users, like around schools. With Twitter and Instagram, the audience is your followers,” which means everyone is rallied around a person rather than an idea.
Posts are loaded in real-time and can get up-voted to the top or down-voted into oblivion. “You get these bad pockets of people and we just nip that in the bud. There was some anti-Semitism and racism early on. But those people don’t last. They can’t recruit a lot of people, they can’t be effective,” Frieber said. “As soon as you get in there to hate, it gets down-voted.”
Hyper is pseudonymous, meaning users can use their real identity or far from it. But the more people distance themselves from their real identity, the more people are honestly themselves. “If you choose to be more yourself, we tend to see more conservative posts. For those who take on a new identity, there’s an ability to express themselves more truly,” he said.
That atmosphere has made Hyper particularly LGBT-friendly with several posts focused on discovering or struggling with sexual identities or experiences. For example, someone might share a selfie and say they’re struggling with coming out, depression, or suicide. Where other forums might lead to hateful remarks, Hyper commenters are often supportive, frequently offering to talk one-on-one through other ephemeral apps like Kik or SnapChat.
That is not to say Hyper is devoid of negative comments, Frieber admits, bickering and disagreement happens but is largely self-regulated because connecting over a shared interest helps to mitigate it: “Our interests are what make us who we are, that’s who we actually are. When you connect people this way, it’s natural.”