It was supposed to be the naughty, cool, cutting-edge new text messaging app that took the market and youth culture by storm. “Blindspot,” with its jaunty logo - a pirate emoticon winking and smirking with its tongue out - debuted last month, boasting glitzy investors like Nicki Minaj, David Guetta, will.i.am and Roman Abramovich in the company backing it - the Shellanoo Group, and a founder, Dor Refaeli, who is the brother of high-profile supermodel Bar Refaeli.
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But the app has hit massive opposition by angry young people, worried parents and crusading politicians in its first rollout in Israel. They find the “wacky anonymous messaging app” and its pirate smiley more dangerous than cute, and argue that that the app’s selling point - the ability to send anonymous texts - intensifies the high-tech bullying that has driven children and teens to committing suicide.
The controversy made it to the Knesset this week, with MKs Michal Rozin and Aliza Lavie decrying it at a session of the parliament’s Science subcommittee on Monday. After reading an anti-Blindspot letter from a young person who had suffered from Internet bullying, Rozin declared “People with technological knowhow chase profits and our sons and daughters pay the price. Enough!” She stated that “the unbridled greed of the owners is fueling bullying and pain.”
A viral video circulating on Israeli social media features a sad family spading dirt into a grave - then revealing a coffin adorned with the sign of the campaign against the app - the trademark emoticon frowning and sad - sending the message that it is the Blindspot that deserves to be buried - not their kids.
With established social media platforms like Facebook demanding identification and accountability, and WhatsApp and texting displaying the numbers of message-senders, those who want to communicate behind a veil of anonymity make for a tempting market.
Before Blindspot, the popular messaging platform Snapchat initially raised eyebrows by allowing messages and images to disappear shortly after they were sent, leaving those who sent them unaccountable. Blindspot is part of a new wave that represents the next step in the ability to remain anonymous and unaccountable - allowing users to send text and images to any phone without any clue as to the sender.
The app’s marketing campaign makes it all sound fabulous and fun: “Don’t you ever wish you could say what’s on your mind without everyone knowing it was you? Now you can send one-on-one messages to your friends, your crush, or anyone on your contact list without them knowing it’s you. The playful app lets you flirt, play pranks, or tell secrets without revealing your identity until you’re ready.
Thanks to BLINDSPOT, things are about to get interesting.”
But instead of getting interesting, they have gotten ugly. Complaints about the app online began to appear in Israeli social media shortly after its launch: school-aged children and teens were using Blindspot to send insulting messages calling each other “a slut who should close her legs” or “the smelliest kid in the class” without being identified. One Facebook user reported that his sister has been afraid to go to school after receiving rape threats via Blindspot.
Multiple Facebook pages like “Close down Blindspot App” and “I’m Boycotting Blindspot” are now devoted to decrying the app. The host of a popular Internet television show posted a diatribe against it and received more than 36,000 likes. On the Apple and Google app stores, reviews have been posted, calling it “pure evil.” The company has largely remained silent in the face of the criticism, but pointed out in response to criticism in an article in The Marker that the app contains the ability to block messages and that the messages are not public.
Most of the attacks have been directed personally at the company’s founder. “We won’t stop until Dor Rafaeli shuts this down! In the end someone will die from this!” declared one post. A journalist published Refaeli’s cell phone number, saying that “if he loves anonymous messages so much, let’s send him some and tell him what we think of him.”
What feels new and interesting - and encouraging - about the campaign against Blindspot is the fact that it is not being driven by adults trying to ruin their kids’ fun.
At least one of the groups campaigning against it are teenagers from a Herzliya high school, and other young people are active online in the pushback against it. It seems that a new generation of youths, after growing up suffering from virtual harassment themselves, seeing friends suffer from bullying on various platforms and hearing of cases where such harassment drove teens to suicide, have decided to stand up and decide where to draw the line - not leaving it to parents and teachers to police them. And so, a product that has clearly worked hard to be cool among the kids has become very uncool - so much so that young celebrities who were recruited to promote Blindspot on their social media accounts have removed their endorsements.
If the campaign to kill Blindspot is effective in shutting it down, it won’t be unprecedented. Another anonymous messaging app called Secret closed its doors last year.
Secret had proved highly profitable and popular but also extremely controversial, accused of being used to spread nasty rumors, lies, and libel. Its founder David Byttow, tired of the battles, shut the company down and destroyed all is user data, explaining that what Secret had become“does not represent the vision I had when starting the company.”
Dor Rafaeli may well be thinking the same thing about Blindspot.