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Steve Louis is on social media — Instagram, Twitter, Vine and others — pretty much “all the time,” the 25-year old New York-based musician said. So it should come as no surprise that Louis spends a fair amount of time on Whisper and met his girlfriend online using the popular anonymous-sharing app.
But Louis has also used the platform, which has more than 20 million monthly active users in 187 countries, to spread messages of hope and support.
Whisper was launched in 2012 and works like this: A user pens a confession, deep secret, random thought or even a desire. Whisper generates an image that matches the text or a user can choose a picture. The text is overlaid on the image and voila, it appears for others to see. Users can also heart posts and respond to others. The catch? It’s completely anonymous.
The model isn’t new. Whisper’s biggest competitor, Secret, recently shuttered its doors. There’s also YikYak and Reddit, but what sets the Venice Beach, California-based platform apart from its competitors is a strong commitment to responsible anonymity.
“There is no bullying, trolling, racism or sexual harassment,” said Aishwarya Iyer, Whisper’s director of communication. Besides having a team of more than 100 human moderators reviewing posts, Whisper says it also has technology that bans any questionable content.
But sometimes, Louis would come across what he called “worrying comments.”
That’s when he started responding to the forlorn posters.
“I made it a goal to talk to someone who really seemed down,” Louis told TODAY. “I didn’t want to be the guy who just stood by and did nothing when I could say something and hope that it made a person feel better.”
One Whisperer wrote that she was sure her boyfriend was cheating on her. Louis responded with a post that read, “Why put yourself through the stress? Relationships fall apart because of the lack of communication and trust …”
Another wrote that love surely didn’t exist anymore. Louis’ response? “How about you just take 5 for now ... Make yourself happy and make the most of the world around you."
Some Whisperers responded, while others didn’t. But regardless, said Iyer, “It really shows the power of being compassionate to someone you don’t know and probably won’t ever know.”
“I didn’t want anyone to think that they didn’t have anyone who cared about them,” said Louis. “It might be just a small conversation but I think it makes people feel better about their day.”
Eventually, Louis’ online acts of kindness started affecting his real-world behavior. During his day job at a local Starbucks, he was often asked to gently remove the homeless folks who wander in to use the bathroom. On one occasion, Louis wound up talking to a man named Tony, a repeat offender, and learned about his story, which included going through foster care, having an estranged son and later coping with homelessness. Eventually Tony asked for Louis’ help. The two met at a nearby park after work one evening a few weeks ago and from there, the relationship blossomed.
They meet regularly — Louis helped him get cleaned up and presentable so he would be allowed into Starbucks — and have forged an informal mentor-mentee bond. Plus Louis’ new friend is also a musician who hopes to pick up his music career again.
“People are capable of so much more than they realize,” said Louis. “And I just feel so drawn to helping him.”
And Louis surely isn’t the only person to have shared a nugget of positive advice or found that special someone online. The most searched and used word on Whisper in 2015? Love.