A new social app aimed at teens and launched just this summer has been acquired by Facebook. Despite having only been released in August, TBH (messenger-speak for ‘to be honest’) the app has already been downloaded 5 million times and is said to have around 2.5 million active daily users. It’s been at close to the top Apple’s App Store chart for free downloads for several weeks now, and was catapulted to the top spot when news of Facebook’s acquisition broke.
TBH is an ‘anonymous messaging’ app, several of which have become popular over the past couple of years, though the most common pattern has been for them to take off quickly in popularity and then just as quickly fall out of fashion again. Yik Yak, Secret and After School are all examples of flash-in-the-pan anonymous messenger apps that have popped up and vanished again over the past couple of years, while another, Sarahah (Arabic for openness or candour) also rose to prominence earlier this year and still has a significant teen user base. It was actually initially launched as an app intended to be used within a corporate environment for employees to provide feedback to their employer.
The common thread through this kind of app is that users can send other users messages without the recipient knowing the identity of the sender. While most anonymous messenger apps officially promote ‘constructive’ and ‘complimentary’ messages, the criticism has been levelled that the reality tends to be a little different. The genre of apps has been widely criticised as platforms which facilitate cyberbullying, with messages sometimes of a vindictive or offensive nature.
TBH was seemingly set up as an answer to that criticism with moderation in place to screen for anything that could be considered harassment or hurtful being posted to users. The app is based on users choosing from a selection of, or creating, polls such as ‘Who is the best dressed/who is kindest/who has the nicest smile: User A, User B or User C’. New poll questions must be approved by moderators before being added to the range of those which can be selected by users. It positioned itself as “the only anonymous app with positive vibes.”
With Facebook’s user demographic having seen a significant move towards older age groups over the past decade, the social media giant is making a concerted effort to keep the ‘teen’ audience engaged. The expensive acquisition of Instagram was seen as a strategic acquisition with exactly that aim and TBH is a play on the popularity of anonymous messengers without the risk of it attracting negative publicity by facilitating online bullying. No figures on the cost of buying TBH have been made public, though it is said to have been somewhere under the $100 million level.
TBH’s downloads and active user numbers to date are all the more impressive in the context that to date the app has only been available in 34 U.S. states and for iPhone users. Now owned by Facebook, it can be presumed that the social media app will shortly be also available for Android users. And possibly most importantly, contrary to what often appears to be the evidence, it looks like using social media as a platform to be nice to others can be popular!