Could anonymous Q&A app NGL make online trolling worse?

Posted by Caroline Edwards in Comment

1 year ago

Influencers commonly post ‘ask me anything’ stickers on Instagram Stories to invite visible questions from their followers. Now there’s a new trend – hosting anonymous Q&As.

Anonymous Q&A apps are nothing new – digital natives have seen the rise and decline of platforms such as Formspring and Ask.fm in the late 2000s and early 2010s – but now there’s anonymous app NGL (an acronym for Not Gonna Lie), leading the resurgence. As of July 20221, NGL has had over 15 million installs and its popularity skyrocketed in June.

For those unfamiliar with NGL, it defines itself as a “fresh take on anonymity”, having launched in November 2021. People can write comments, opinions and ask questions anonymously, but people can also pay to receive hints about who created said messages.

If you’ve ever used Formspring, Ask.fm or even received anonymous Tumblr messages in the 2010s, you know anonymity is the perfect storm for leading to trolling and cyberbullying. Remove accountability and social media users are immediately more comfortable posting comments which can be rude at best, and hugely damaging at their worst.

NGL is trying to combat this. On its website, NGL states it provides a safe space for teens and uses a “world class AI content moderation”, which includes “rule-based character pattern-matching algorithms to filter out harmful language and bullying.”

Writers such as Chanté JosephEllen C Scott and Tianna Johnson, along with sex and relationships expert Oloni, have used NGL in the past few weeks to answer followers’ questions on their Instagram Stories.

Although it’s intriguing to know what people really think of you, it also means potentially subjecting yourself to trolling and online abuse – even if NGL does have an algorithm to filter out harmful language.

So far, it seems creators have received reasonably polite questions or messages. When Joseph used the app in June, some of the questions she received were simple, such as “did you watch Game of Thrones?” Her more recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) request in July included people telling her secrets, asking about dating, imposter syndrome and the climate crisis.

While an anonymous app can lead to trolling, for some followers who are shy, it seems NGL can help build a community – but people need to be aware of what it could lead to when using the app. Influencers have long been open about their experiences with trolling, so their interest in NGL is intriguing. Some could argue, why invite the opportunity for people to take advantage of anonymity?

While NGL uses an algorithm to filter out harmful messages, NBC News tested the app in June and found messages such as “you’re ugly” and “everyone hates you” slipped through. It is possible, according to reports from TechCrunch and VICE’ Motherboard, that some questions are reportedly sent from bots.

Following news that the Online Safety Bill has now been paused in Parliament while a new prime minister is found, increased regulation and legislation to protect internet users from harmful content such as trolling, is no longer a focus for the government. This has been widely criticised, shadow culture minister Alex Davies-Jones described it as “an absolutely devastating blow and another example of the Tories prioritising their own ideals over people’s safety online.”

Former Love Islander Amy Hart, who met with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport earlier this year, also criticised the decision to delay the Bill, and said urgent issues like cyberflashing, suicidal ideology being sent to children’s accounts and anonymous death threats were being put on hold as a result.

Despite its well-intentioned, safety-first approach, the continued rise of NGL and other Q&A apps like Sendit isn’t guaranteed, and while influencers have shown initial interest in the anonymity aspect, it could be another avenue for trolling to thrive. Time will tell.

By Caroline Edwards, staff writer at CORQ. Picture credit: NGL via Instagram