As schools started this fall across Texas, a new app was gaining popularity.
Many teens, already having their favorite, go-to social media platforms still found time to squeeze in one more. This app, while similar to its predecessors, held a certain allure and luster that created a viral buzz. Not only was it anonymous, which teens love, but it was supposed to spread positivity and compliments.
What tender teenage soul wouldn’t try out an anonymous social media app that would text friends the sweet things said about them??
And so, tbh (to be honest) grew wildly.
At the time, tbh was only available in a few states, Texas being one. This gave teens in these select states a feeling of elitism. As word spread and compliment texts began popping up from tbh, an aura of FOMO proliferated among those who hadn’t yet jumped on the band wagon, spreading its reach even further.
HOW tbh WORKS
The tbh app operates by collecting contacts from your address book and/or school name and grade to generate an audience. It then provides simple polls: 1 question with 4 people’s names to choose who best represents that one question.
The winner of the poll is then notified via text of their “compliment.” This is where the anonymity comes in. The text will only reveal if it is from a boy or girl and what grade they are in.
The user can answer twelve polls an hour. While they wait an hour before they can take more, they are prompted to invite more friends.
WHY tbh IS JUST LIKE THE REST
While the premise of any app dedicated to providing compliments sounds promising, there are always concerns.
App makers know they will only get to the #1 spot on iTunes if they can truly hook or addict the user. Sadly, this is something young app users enthusiastically volunteer for. tbh’s key aspect of limited quantity promotes a scarcity mindset which compels the user to come back again and again. Couple that with competition and you’ve hooked teens.
Call them ‘anonymous complimentary polls’ in an effort to change how the world views social apps all you want, but these polls are judgment. Are teens really emotionally and relationally healthier when they have an app compelling them to make judgments about their friends? Even more, anonymous judgments are not always interpreted as compliments. And now that tbh is wildly popular, the company is struggling to keep their polling questions consistently positive. (“Most likely to drop their phone in the toilet?” and “Most likely to wait till the last minute to finish a group project?” can easily be misinterpreted.)
tbh wants your data. They don’t care who you think will still look hot at 80 years old but they do want access to your entire address book – and request it at sign up. Some people in your contact list may not be okay with this, but tbh doesn’t give them a choice. Oh, and tbh has ZERO privacy settings.
Competition seems to be a love/hate factor of many social apps. It feels so great when you are winning, yet so awful when you aren’t. tbh allows you to scroll through your friends notifications. So really, there isn’t as much anonymity as meets the eye. Anyone can see how many and which notifications their friends received. At which point, their own compliment notifications may not feel as great as they once did. And we cannot forget the ever important “gems” you can earn when someone chooses you. Surely, these gems can translate into contentment and success in life, right?
5. Direct Messages
These are the bane of every parent’s existence. Messaging functions that occur within the app and over the internet are virtually impossible to track. In the beginning days of tbh, this feature was NOT offered. This actually gave many parents piece of mind for their children to download it. But like all other social apps, in order to get full teen buy-in, there must be the ability to have private conversations away from parent’s eyes. Classic bait and switch tactic.
6. Time Waster
You can attempt to justify the fun of these social apps but at the core, it is one more thing to distract kids. One more reason to be on their phones (as if they need one!) Apps like these, however well-intentioned, provide zero character development or life training. It is just one more way to be entertained.
WHAT FACEBOOK HAS TO DO WITH IT
Just recently Facebook purchased tbh for a rumored $100 million. An amount one reporter referred to as “a rounding error for Facebook.”
This is important for parents for several reasons. First, Facebook owns Instagram as well. While Facebook may not be as popular among teens these days, Instagram surely is. This will allow tbh users to sign in seamlessly with either Facebook or Instagram. This sign in grants the app access to the content and friends on those platforms as well. Bottom line, Facebook and Instagram backing will enable tbh to explode in popularity.
Second, Facebook is ruthless. Without any shame they mimicked Snapchat’s most popular features, stories and disappearing pictures, in Instagram’s already successful platform. This bold business move rocketed Instagram back to the number one app for teens. Facebook has made their intentions crystal clear: the want to dominate the market (and world). If they are acquiring tbh in order to gain more of the teenage market, the chances are high they will succeed.
If we want to encourage kindness and positivity, it begins at home. It is cultivated and exemplified in how we speak to our children, spouse, friends and strangers. Equally, it is modeled in how we speak about other people around our children.
We do not need an app to solve the lack of kindness problem in our children’s social sub-culture. We teach kindness to them and set an expectation for it. Hold kids accountable for any unkindness to siblings, friends, teachers, or strangers – whether on a device or in person.
Accountability – not anonymity – is what kids need today.