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Building a safe, anonymous community

Aug 5, 2014 · 4 min read

When we created Secret six months ago, we first gave it to our friends and family. We watched how they shared every day and believed Secret could be something special. The posts and conversations were unlike anything we’d seen on any other social network: raw, honest and human.

At the same time, we knew that safety had to be a top priority. The two of us had built social networks before (e.g. Google Wave, Google+, Photovine) and understood the importance of privacy, community tools and moderation; especially in an anonymous community. We knew we had to be proactively involved in order to keep Secret safe.

We wanted to learn from the lessons of the past, and given the responsibility that comes with building an anonymous platform, we sought out, consulted with, hired and learned from people that have built mainstream online anonymous communities, some of which are thriving. These people included the founders of 7 Cups of Tea, Formspring, JuicyCampus, Reddit, LikeALittle, Whisper and many others. We’ve also met with academic researchers like Sarah Cowen and Clay Shirky, just to name a couple. The lessons learned have been invaluable.

At Secret, we believe that:

  • People are inherently good
  • Anonymity is a privilege
  • We must protect our community by actively enforcing our policies
  • Beauty begets beauty; a productive and well-lit space encourages great conversations
  • In an anonymous community, responsibility is critical, both for the platform and its users

We also believe in the importance of honesty and transparency, so we want to share with you what we’ve learned about building a safe community and how we are applying that knowledge to Secret.

Content policy

The first step in protecting a community is defining clear policies. These policies should begin with and reflect the beliefs and values of its founders. We’ve hired and collaborated with experts from Facebook and Google to define clear, nuanced, and enforceable internal policies around what content we will and won’t allow. This is much harder than we anticipated, and it took a significant amount of time to get it to a point we were comfortable with.

We don’t allow posts that include:

  • Pornography
  • Bullying
  • Threats
  • Hate speech
  • Encouragement of self-harm
  • Graphic content
  • Private information (email, phone #s, etc)
  • Copyrighted content
  • Spam

To learn more about our policies, read our Community Guidelines.

Empower the community

The second step is to help the community protect and shape itself.

We make our community guidelines publicly available and encourage every user, new and existing, to read them and send feedback. This helps members of the community know how they should behave and also helps them recognize and report bad behavior.

We make it easy for community members to flag a post when it violates Secret’s guidelines. When a user flags a post, they can choose the reason (bullying, self harm, etc). This helps prioritize the secrets that our moderation team reviews so we can react as quickly as possible to more serious violations.

We also believe in adding small details to help set the tone of the product such as changing the comment placeholder text to “Say something kind” and showing a dialog reminding users of the community guidelines when they make a post with a proper name in it.

Enforcing the policies

Setting policies is an important step, but effectively and consistently enforcing them is even more important. Before we launched Secret, we had already begun building a comprehensive admin tool that allows a team of moderators to do things such as review all secrets suspected of being against our policies.

Secrets are reviewed by moderators when they are flagged by a user or automatically flagged by our system. We automatically flag secrets based on a mix of criteria, including keywords and patterns. In some cases, we ban users who repeatedly violate our guidelines. We improve every day, and while we aren’t perfect, we will continue investing in this area because the smarter the system, the faster we can react.

When a flagged post is taken down, we often notify the people who flagged it with a notification stating “A post you flagged was removed. Thanks for keeping Secret safe!” It’s important that users know the system is working, and that their participation is impactful to the community.

Going forward

We care deeply about the safety of our users. We have been and will continue to be fully committed to doing everything we can to keep Secret a safe place. This includes making our moderation platform better and faster, growing our trust-and-safety team, communicating policy improvements and involving the community as much as possible. We aim to publish transparent reports with a regular cadence.

We have a lot of work to do. We are listening to and steadily growing our community, engineering, operations and trust-and-safety teams. If you’re interested in helping, or have your own stories and lessons to share, please reach out to us.

David Byttow and Chrys Bader, founders of Secret

Secret Den

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