Anonymity and the Amino App: It’s All About Intention
Over the last few months we have seen quite an increase of people asking us about “Amino,” a community engagement app that allows users to participate in “chats, blogs, favourites, polls and more.” Like many other apps, people really enjoy the aspect of meeting likeminded individuals from around the world. We have had both parents and students specifically ask if we at the White Hatter Team have any concerns about what happens on this online platform. We decided to officially take some time to create a profile and explore the app to get a genuine idea of the experience; we want to be able to report back to help inform anyone who may have some apprehensions. Overall, the behaviour we saw in Amino happens in all other apps with similar social networking features (e.g. Instagram or Facebook). For context: as a company, we haven’t investigated any cases or been involved in any significant problems on the Amino app. Conversely, in the last week alone, we have been involved in multiple concerning instances on Instagram and Facebook.
From my perspective, one of the strongest positive aspects of Amino is its creative nature. Much like many other similar apps, it is made up of different types of communities full of hobbies and interests – over one million communities, actually. Each community has a newsfeed and chat (this includes interactive voice chat) where people can engage in many ways, like polling or quizzing members of the group.
Something that Amino users seem to really take advantage of is how much the app allows for artistic expression. There are many “Aminos” for creative writing, drawing/art, music, or photography and they often include challenges that inspire new ideas for these creators. This element of encouraging its users to access their creative side facilitates emotional release and community support. These qualities are something I’ve found to be hugely important to teens and the fact that they can express themselves in their own communities through an app like this is fantastic. Recently, we polled our Instagram audience, which is consisted of mostly preteens and teens, and we asked if they are monetizing any accounts or apps online. We had a response from one teen who said they got started with their artwork on the Amino app and are now making a decent amount of revenue online because of it.
I saw tons of original memes. It’s pretty hilarious and people use these memes to help cheer each other up. It’s a very similar humour to what the app Vine provided at times – people even reference Vine and Vine-derived memes quite a bit.
This is strictly a mobile app, only allowing posts and user interaction through mobile devices and therefore, there is no support for using it on a computer. The app attempts to prevent young children from accessing it by having an age limit of 13 or older; it prompts users when they’re initially going through the sign-up process. However, to no surprise, there are still plenty of youth claiming to be younger in the chats. From what we saw on the app, we recommend Amino for anyone older than 13 years of age (consistent with the app’s age requirements) due to the conversations and the sometimes more mature content that can be found with older teens. Users can change their name, bio, or profile picture depending on each community/interest they’re a part of – it’s easy to “be someone else” by jumping between different communities and profiles.
Much like any other app with the ability to communicate, there can sometimes be opportunities for questionable content. The app claims to not allow pornography or mature content, but it is still present in the form of fetish groups and certain sexual lingo not picked up on keyword searches that’s specific to particular interest groups. (ie. Furry and “yiffing,” porb (intentional typos), etc.). In regard to online communication, it’s important to remember that any possible concern in Amino is also present in other more mainstream apps. People are able to PM each other and we have seen that that’s usually where people head to if they want to interact sexually or inappropriately with each other. It does happen.
Like other apps and sites, there are lots of abbreviations used. For example, “rp” = roleplaying and usually it leads to one-on-one sexual chat in PMs (Private Messaging). This sexual behaviour is not directly apparent, as users need to search out these niche communities. This type of sexual exploration is exactly the same as what we see on other online platforms. One such example is the presence of hentai, (anime and manga pornography, also referend to Japanese erotic art) and it can present some confusing images for a young teen who may not have been exposed to anything sexual before. Especially the bestiality/furry aspect of what can be seen in some of these groups may be difficult to understand or interpret for certain students.
Amino is unlike many of the mainstream apps that are more focused towards users identifying with who they are by sharing their real identity online with their friends and followers. Anonymity enhances the disinhibition effect of the internet, as you can be who you want and reveal as much as you want. One very positive thing about this app is that it seems to be very accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. People seem comfortable expressing their sexual preference and discussing it with people. We witnessed some innocent flirting as well as what could be viewed as harassment. There is an aspect of sexual exploration – discovering one’s sexual identity – but users need to be careful while navigating the app as, like anything, there are pros and cons.
One thing I did come across that I would consider concerning was a lot of talk of suicide and depression. Many people say things like, “Kill me.” “I’m human garbage.” but in a humorous manner with a satirical tone. A lot of the people chatting seem genuinely depressed and even suicidal at times, but they have found a community of like-minded people who they can be open with and even seek support from when it comes to their struggles. The increased sense of anonymity within Amino most likely contributes to this more open discussion and support network for these difficult emotions. We don’t have any research at the moment to cite, but from what we have experienced with more niche apps is that they tend to attract those who may not feel as if they fit within the wider society.
As we say in all of our presentations, “It’s not the app in in particular; it’s how the app is being used.” It’s all about the intention in the user’s actions on the app. Is there some less-desirable content on Amino? Yes. But just look at any app or game in-depth (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, Minecraft, Roblox, etc.) and you will find the same. Amino brings a freedom with allowing for so much flexibility in identity and it all depends on how the user takes advantage of this feature. This app allows for self-discovery and artistic expression, and despite some of the concerns brought to us by students and parents, overall, it’s a constructive community and can a play a large part in the forming of one’s identity on and offline.
The White Hatter Team