Over the past years, several platforms have arisen to provide users with a way with telling secret confessions anonymously. In fact, anonymous secret confessions have become so popular that you may have one or more apps on your mobile device right now.

The Origins of Secret Confessions

Of course, anonymous confessions online aren’t new. Websites like Grouphug.us, which ran between 2003 and 2013, were among the groundbreakers in the genre. The websites often look different, but they all have the same basic premise. You can log on and post anonymous secret confessions or read those from others, and there’s no identifying information. Some confessions apps and websites might appear with a general location, timestamp or even an image that you create, but your identity is a mystery to others.

While anonymity often leads to harassment of users, the inability to directly communicate on many of these confession websites offered a layer of protection for users. However, some users wanted a sense of community, which is why Frank Warren created a forum when he founded Post Secret. Post Secret is one of the most popular confession outlets, and the postcard confessions site works a little differently than its contemporaries.

Users mail in physical secrets on postcards that they have decorated. Frank receives the postcards in the mail, chooses several to feature every Sunday on the website and photographs the postcards to show on the site. PostSecret uses a script to show cards that have secrets on both sides. Frank has disabled comments on the weekly posts, which he titles “Sunday Secrets.” After a week, those posts are removed.

Although the secrets are completely anonymous, PostSecret readers can sign up for the forum where they can communicate with others. There is overlap between forum users and people who have mailed in secrets, but the blog and community function separately so anonymity remains.

Aside from PostSecret becoming a popular website, it has also spawned multiple books, and creator Frank Warren tours the country. He makes appearances at colleges and other events, where people gather in groups to read about and express their own secrets. Frank will occasionally include emails from participants, many of whom are grateful, in these events in his Sunday Secrets posts. The PostSecret site also contains a limited number of “followups” from users who have previously sent in postcards.

Secret Confessions, Mental Health and Suicide Hotlines

Confessions run the gamut, but several themes are apparent. These include romantic and sexual relationships, self-confidence and body image, military, religious views, politics and familiar relationships. Some secrets confess crimes and lesser offences such as seeking abortions or having affairs

Because suicide and depression are frequent topics of secret, the creator of PostSecret frequently provides resources including phone numbers for suicide and other hotlines around the world. PostSecret events also serve as fundraisers for mental health and related causes.

Sharing Secrets With An App

In September 2011, the official PostSecret app became available to Apple users. In a few short months, the app received more than 2 million digital submissions. An entire team of moderators were unable to keep up with the secrets, some of which contained nudity or abusive messages. A little over three months later, Frank would pull the app from the market after being contacted by law enforcement and even Apple. Frank’s biggest concerns were abusive secrets and the inability to moderate them.

While traditional secrets on PostSecret are easier to moderate and more difficult to aim at a specific user, readers should be careful of content that could potentially be triggering. Secrets about rape, crime, self-harm, eating disorders and other sensitive topics could be emotionally traumatizing to users who have had personal experience with those issues in the past.

There may no longer be an official PostSecret app for mobile devices, but apps that allow you to post secret confessions abound in both the iTunes and Google Play stores. One of the most popular to date is Whisper, which allows users to add text to photos they upload and post those anonymous confessions to the site. Whisper organizes confessions by those that are the most popular, and it differs from PostSecret in that users can create their own secret “replies” to the original secret.

The aptly-named Secret is another cross-platform app with much the same function. Users can comment on secrets, which increases the likelihood of abuse. However, users can also add secrets to their favourites, which may be seen as agreement or support to some people who use Secret.

Both Secret and Whisper differ from PostSecret because there is no way for the apps and posted content to remain entirely anonymous. In fact, Whisper’s privacy policy states that the service may be compelled to provide identifying information to law enforcement if a posted secret relates to a crime. According to one official at Whisper, the company only proactively reports users when it believes that a minor may be at risk. However, there’s no way to guarantee that secrets actually are secrets on those websites.

Other Confessional Formats

Of course, there are plenty of other websites to use if true anonymity is desired. For example, a number of websites spawned for secrets use an intended format. These include FML, IMMD and MLIA — along with a number of copycat sites. FML, short for “Fuck My Life,” is a website that compiles user-submitted content about things currently going wrong with their life. It Made My Day is a similar site owned by the Cheezburger network that features uplifting and happy stories while “My Life Is Average” features stories from users about how their life is neither good nor bad.

MLIA and FML both use the same layout, which doesn’t allow for anonymous posting. However, other users can vote whether submitted content, which is only in the form of text, is appropriate for the site. IMMD allows secret confessions in the form of images. Users can choose to display their username or for their posts to show up from an unknown user, thus protecting their identity.

Keeping Minors Safe with Secret Apps and Sites

While anonymity is certainly a concern when it comes to apps and websites that allow for secret confessions, especially when it comes to potentially abusive users or confessions about crimes, these services aren’t without their benefits. PostSecret has led to users seeking help for their mental states or suicidal thoughts. Events have resulted in coupledoms and even several marriages, and even just watching secrets scroll past their screens has helped readers to feel more connected with the world around them and the people who reside in it.

Parents who are worried whether these sites may be detrimental to their children’s state of mind should browse with them, especially on sites where there may be adult content and there is a commenting system. However, parents can also encourage minors to mail their own secrets in to PostSecret to experience emotional catharsis.

Computer monitoring software can help parents identify whether children are using these sites to express alarming or potentially criminal secrets; however, discussing the type of content posted on secret confessions websites can be one way in which parents and children bond.