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New anonymous app ‘Rooms’ on Facebook: A Tool for Trolls?

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Facebook announced last Thursday that they have released a new app that allows people to post anonymously. The app is called ‘Rooms’ and is for people who want to discuss sensitive issues that they may not want to talk about on their page feed.

Facebook app: ROOMS

Facebook gave a statement to describe the new app:

Rooms is for people who want to discuss sensitive issues without using their real name‘.

The app lets users interact and talk about anything they want whilst remaining anonymous. The app is a standalone mobile app that works for iOS.

Each ‘room’ is constructed of photos and pictures based on a single subject, chosen by the person who set the room up. The person can choose colour themes, images, icons etc to suit the atmosphere of the subject.

Once the room is set up, invites will be sent out to others to join in the discussion taking place in the room, but once in the room everyone is anonymous.

So far indications of early room set-ups have focused on social topics such as pug-lovers, make-up mastery and city gardens.  Facebook product manager Josh Miller, who headed up the app, said:

“There is a good reason in a lot of situations why you don’t want people to know who you are and it’s not because of something sketchy. We want to give people flexibility because that’s what they want.”

Android and desktop versions of Rooms will be released in the future.

This new app marks a significant departure for Facebook, as just recently they made changes which stopped people using nicknames.  But with all the recent controversy surrounding Twitter trolling, and a UK government ruling that online trolls could face a custodial sentence of up to two years, is setting aside an anonymous room a good idea?

When Facebook were criticised for their policy of only allowing people to use their real names, chief product officer Chris Cox said it was to keep users safe:

First, it’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity or often random names were the social norm,” he said.

Second, it’s the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm.”

Why Facebook created the ROOMS app

So why now introduce a secret room where people can post whatever they like with no recourse if people are abused, or groups of people are targeted?

Some media experts are saying that the new app could be Facebook’s answer to the new social network Ello, where users can use any name they want, but have to be invited.

Ello started off as a private social network, created by a small group of artists and designers, designed to be ad free, but as it grew in popularity, others wanted to join.  Not only are Ello ad free but they promise to never sell your data to third parties.

This is what they say about their rivals:

“Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data.”

On October 23, 2014 Ello became a USA Public Benefit Corporation, making it virtually impossible for Ello to ever sell ads or user data. It seems that this is appealing to people, as Ello state they are getting 40,000 requests an hour from users wanting to sign up.

As for Facebook, it remains to be seen if their new Rooms app will prove to be a success for minority groups, or just another tool for trolls.

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