I was given a look at the Whisper moderation process because Michael Heyward, Whisper’s CEO, sees moderation as an integral feature and a key selling point of his app. Whisper practices “active moderation,” an especially labor-intensive process in which every single post is screened in real time; many other companies moderate content only if it’s been flagged as objectionable by users, which is known as reactive moderating. “The type of space we’re trying to create with anonymity is one where we’re asking users to put themselves out there and feel vulnerable,” he tells me. “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s tough to put it back in.”
Watching Baybayan’s work makes terrifyingly clear the amount of labor that goes into keeping Whisper’s toothpaste in the tube. (After my visit, Baybayan left his job and the Bacoor office of TaskUs was raided by the Philippine version of the FBI for allegedly using pirated software on its computers. The company has since moved its content moderation operations to a new facility in Manila.) He begins with a grid of posts, each of which is a rectangular photo, many with bold text overlays—the same rough format as old-school Internet memes. In its freewheeling anonymity, Whisper functions for its users as a sort of externalized id, an outlet for confessions, rants, and secret desires that might be too sensitive (or too boring) for Facebook or Twitter. Moderators here view a raw feed of Whisper posts in real time. Shorn from context, the posts read like the collected tics of a Tourette’s sufferer. Any bisexual women in NYC wanna chat? Or: I hate Irish accents! Or: I fucked my stepdad then blackmailed him into buying me a car.