Is Secret-Sharing App Whisper Taking Gossip Way Too Far?

Let’s face the facts: we’re the TMZ, tabloid generation who live for smartphones and instant gratification. We want the full scoop and we want it now about everyone: people we went to school with, people we used to date, people we don’t even know. Celebrity scoop equals major money for the Hollywood gossip peddling industry and we’re quick to buy into it in a million different ways. We buy magazines, visit websites and watch tell-all TV interviews, all out of an insatiable need to know more. But can gossip go too far?

Whisper is a new secret-sharing app that encourages anonymous confessions from, well, anyone who downloads it. Many are innocuous – tales of roommates stealing one another’s food or employees playing hooky in favor of a Netflix marathon. However, some “secrets” shared on Whisper are way too real. Take, for instance, the anonymous contribution posted back on February 18th. A user posted a photo of actress Gwyneth Paltrow along with the following caption:

While there’s no end to the amount of Hollywood hearsay that’s spread around on a daily basis both online and off, this post, it seemed, had some merit, as the source was thought to be valid by Whisper’s editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman, who re-published the photo on his own account. As he explained to Defamer:

While it would seem impossible to validate a story that seems to do nothing more than mirror earlier gossip about Paltrow’s supposed marital infidelity, perhaps the proof lies in an announcement that came earlier today from Gwyneth Paltrow herself on her website:

“We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

Do we know for sure that it was the Whisper message posted above which led to the couple’s split? Of course not. However, we also can’t ignore the facts. Vanity Fair was reportedly threatening to publish an exposé for much of 2013 before abandoning the story this past February. Weeks later, an anonymous user publishes an allegation complete with a name of the person with whom Paltrow was apparently involved. The following month, Paltrow and Martin split. Was Whisper the final straw?

While we cannot possibly know – nor should we speculate upon – the real reasons behind Paltrow and Martin’s decision to end their marriage, it’s interesting to consider the place gossip, regardless of its potential truth, plays in our lives. Whisper provides anonymity, which can certainly be cathartic to those with something to get off their chests. However, it can also create a haven for baseless gossip, which can potentially be harmful not only to celebrities but to all of us.

Protection of our ability to speak freely is certainly important, and we all deserve to be able to speak our minds without fear of repercussions, so long as the things we are saying aren’t meant to be hurtful to others. Whisper execs have insisted that they do not allow defamation or bullying on the site, and that’s good to hear, but how do we draw the line between watercooler gossip and accusations which could cause serious harm?

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