Since the beginning, one of users’ main criticisms of Facebook has been the fact that it’s extremely difficult — if not impossible — to be anonymous on the site. Not only does Facebook prohibit the use of pseudonyms (although the policy isn’t always enforced), anything that you post appears under your username. So while you might be able to join a secret group to discuss your love of a particular television show, your name and public profile information are still visible to everyone else.
Facebook’s lack of anonymity has been frustrating to many users, who may wish to keep their identities a secret for a wide variety of reasons, not all of which are nefarious. Someone may simply wish to keep certain hobbies a secret or want to discuss a topic that their friends aren’t interested in without clogging up others’ newsfeeds, and therefore risk being hidden or worse — unfriended.
That’s why Facebook’s new standalone app, Rooms, is so exciting to many users. Rooms mark the first major departure from the site’s longstanding anti-anonymity policies, and allows users to create and join anonymous chat rooms to discuss virtually any topic with others.
How Rooms Works
At its core, Rooms is essentially a chat room or web forum, much as most of us are used to. However, it’s a mobile-only app, meaning you can access your Rooms from your smartphone.
In short, it works like this: You download the free app, which allows you either to create your own rooms, which can be completely customized (in terms of name, image, etc.), or to join Rooms when you receive invitations. You can also join specific Rooms by scanning a Room’s QR code. For example, an enthusiast website may create a room for fans, and post a QR code on its website or send an email containing the code, which you can then scan to join.
What makes Rooms unique from other sites, is that you do not have to use your real identity when contributing to Room. You can contribute to discussions using any name you choose, allowing for complete anonymity. The app doesn’t rely on information culled from your social media profiles or contact lists to populate your Rooms, either. When you create a Room, it’s up to you to determine who can join and how you want to invite them.
Rooms isn’t the only app that allows for completely anonymous discussions. Other apps, like YikYak and Secret, allow people to share their thoughts anonymously. However, YikYak shows your posts based on your geographic location, while Secret taps into your contact list to see which of your friends are also using the app, and anonymously shares your thoughts with them.
Rooms doesn’t rely on your social media friends list or contact lists, but requires users to be invited to a Room to join the conversation. Of course, you don’t have total control over who joins, as it is possible for any Room member to share the unique code with others, thereby giving virtually anyone access to your Room. However, there are some safeguards in place to prevent Rooms from being overrun by too many users, as well as hate speech or inappropriate content.
Rooms will be monitored by trained professionals and governed by Facebook’s terms of service, meaning that when hateful or inappropriate content appears, the moderators can remove it and permanently ban the offensive poster’s device from the Room. Users can also flag content that doesn’t adhere to Facebook’s terms of service for removal.
Still, some cybersecurity experts caution that while Rooms does offer some level of anonymity not previously available via Facebook, it does still come with risks. Within 24 hours of its launch, for example, users were sharing invitations to rooms via Instagram and Reddit, allowing anyone with a QR code to join rooms. The fact that users do not have to use their real names in the app and Facebook is moderating the content provides does some security. But as cases involving YikYak and Secret have shown, harassment is a real possibility. Some companies have even suggested that allowing such anonymous postings can create cybersecurity risks, with disgruntled employees sharing valuable information anonymously.
For now, though, Rooms is being touted as the best way to anonymously connect with like-minded people and have semi-private conversations without sharing everything on social media. Only time will tell how well it keeps our secrets safe.