Rumr is a shiny new app that promotes itself as “a rebellion against public identities.” It’s actually more like the evil stepchild of Whatsapp, Formspring, and Lulu. It’s an app that lets users anonymously send messages their contacts who have installed the app, or any user who has set themselves as public. The sender knows who they are sending it to, but the recipients have no idea who the messages are from; they are identified simply by colors.
While online anonymity can be powerful – taking down authoritarian regimes, unmasking state secrets – it can also be destructive. As PandoDaily notes, “the reality for most of the Western world is that anonymity is more of a crutch for bad behavior on the Web than anything else… We’ve seen enough of the Web to know that when people can be anonymous, hate follows.” And with the exception of some innocent flirting or gossip, it’s hard to imagine how the anonymity of Rumr will be used except for bullying, especially since the app seems to be marketed squarely towards the Snapchatting, Whisper-ing teen set.
Both those apps rely on anonymity, though Whisper is like an app version of Postsecret, with users posting their confessions to the masses, and Snapchat seems to be used far less for sexting than for sending deliberately unattractive selfies and pet pictures. I’m not sure what equally harmless function Rumr could serve: even the app’s name is a suggestion of bad behavior. I have a feeling a lot of teenagers are about to find out their significant others are cheating on them – whether that’s true or not. And in cases of extreme bullying or revenge porn, the structure of Rumr means that there’s no way to find the original source.
I was a teenager during the heyday of Formspring, and it eventually fell out of use because it was just too awful, for everyone: bullying, insults, and plenty of “I hooked up with your boyfriend.” Rumr is, if anything, more nefarious, because it’s entirely private. Everyone on Formspring could click over to your profile and see what that mean anon wrote to you, but Rumr messages remain within the app, and the recipient’s phone. While I suspect the curiosity of seeing if they have a secret admirer might entice a lot of teenagers to sign up for Rumr, at least when things start getting nasty it’s easy to disengage – two taps on your screen and the app is gone.