Experts in digital safety
Remember those anonymous notes passed from closed fist to fist in the classroom? “Rebekah has a crush on you.” “You look hot today.” Signed, nobody. The mystery was out there, ready to be solved.
Thanks to the internet, there’s now a way to keep that secretive magic alive. Through the NGL app, anonymous messages, compliments, secrets and opinions can be shared in an instant. We’re not gonna lie (sorry) – the NGL concept sounds like a recipe for cyberbullying, self-esteem issues, and outright toxicity, especially in the hands of young teens. Its makers claim its algorithm is enough to detect this type of damaging behavior, but does it really work? And is NGL safe for kids to use?
What is the NGL app?
Launched in 2021 by a Californian team of engineers and designers, NGL (short for not gonna lie) is a space for people to “share their feelings without judgment from friends or societal pressures”, according to the app’s homepage.
Aimed specifically at teens and younger users, NGL encourages you to send anonymous messages, opinions, and feelings, requested specifically through a question “prompt”. For example, you could encourage people to “send anonymous confessions”, describe you in 3 words, or have them tell you what they think about you. Here’s hoping you have thick skin.
How does NGL work?
To get started, you need to enter your Instagram username. Once you’ve created a question or prompt to share, you can post the link on your story – even when Instagram’s parental controls are active.
To answer, people follow the link and leave their thoughts, messages, and feelings through their own Instagram account – although their username isn’t shared along with the answer. Their anonymous messages will then begin to collect in the app’s “Inbox” for you to read.
Is NGL really anonymous?
NGL also has a “pro” version, where you can pay to receive hints about who shared the anonymous message. These hints don’t reveal their name or IG handle, but they can include tip-offs such as their location, or device used, which makes the concept rather less “anonymous” than it’s made out to be.
In addition, you can choose to share any messages you receive in your NGL inbox, ranging from anonymous confessions to controversial opinions. All you have to do is click “reply” in the NGL app, which will then create an Instagram story version of the response. You can share this anonymous response to your follower list – so it’s worth noting that “anonymous” doesn’t mean private, either.
How old do you have to be to use NGL?
Despite being touted as a “safe space for teens”, NGL’s terms of service state that users must be over the age of 18 to use the app.
No age verification is required, however, so anyone with an Instagram account can set up an account. You don’t have to enter your date of birth, or any other information about your age, on signup for NGL. Instagram requires users to be 13 to create an account, which means teens under the age of 18 could easily sign up for NGL, in a simple process which only really requires two steps (app download and entering Instagram username).
Is the NGL app safe?
In order to keep its users safe, the app’s developers use an algorithm capable of detecting harmful language, bullying, and even “semantic meaning of emojis”, meaning NGL could potentially identify offensive or harmful use of emojis. The algorithm is updated to understand the latest slang and trends, so harmful messaging doesn’t fly under the radar.
But can this actually work in reality? And is offensive language really the only risk of an app like NGL?
What makes NGL risky for teens
1. Harmful language doesn’t always have to be overtly offensive
The NGL app didn’t censor us when we sent messages of “I don’t like you”, and “You suck” anonymously. These messages might sound tame, but receiving anonymous negative responses about your character or personality can be damaging to anyone – especially young people.
2. Secret sharing can be damaging to self-esteem
Of course, not every message sent through NGL is negative. Compliments and niceties are frequently sent through the app. That means that the odd upsetting message could easily be brushed aside, or treated as a one-off.
But what if harmful or negative responses occur regularly? Honesty isn’t always the best policy – on an app like this, it’s just one person’s “truth”. Children and young people could easily begin to believe any negative things sent to them, in turn damaging their self-esteem and self-image.
3. Sharing of anonymous responses could create potential bullying victims
NGL gives the option to “reply” to an anonymous response. Just as they did with the famous folded-up note, passed through the rows of a classroom, readers will begin to speculate about who wrote the message. The suspect could become a potential target for bullying or ridicule, depending on the anonymous confession shared.
4. The NGL app has allegedly sent fake messages to trick its users
According to Techcrunch, if users didn’t get any engagement on an NGL shared post, the app would start to generate its own anonymous messages. These would then be sent to the user’s inbox. This also means that if users paid for the “pro” tier of NGL, they’d be paying for hints on messages sent by a bot!
5. NGL, like any social media app, collects personal information from users
Creating an NGL account provides the company with both usage data and personal information. This means NGL can collect and store information such as the cell phone you’re using, your IP address, profile details on Instagram, and both payment and contact details.
Qustodio’s final advice on the NGL app
We’d highly recommend sticking to the age restrictions highlighted in NGL’s terms of service – meaning the app is only suitable for teens aged 18 and above. The risk to your child’s self-esteem and their right to privacy is just not worth it.
It’s not the first time anonymous apps like NGL have gone viral, and it certainly won’t be the last. The popularity of Ask.fm, Yik Yak, and Whisper is proof that anonymous sharing is a trend enjoyed by generation after generation. If you think your teen is using NGL or similar apps, it’s worth doing these three things:
- Having regular conversations about social media, and their health and wellbeing online. It can be difficult to start up a conversation with your tween or teenager. Qustodio’s Digital Agreement is a free resource that can help your family to lay out expectations for social media use, screen time, netiquette, and more.
- Teaching them to make use of the “Report” feature if they receive any type of message that makes them feel upset, scared, or angry.
- Reminding them you’re always there for them to talk, judgment free, if there’s anything they want to talk about. As seen by the creation of apps like NGL, teens and young adults crave spaces where they’re listened to without anyone looking down on them. Make yourself a safe space, and offer actionable advice, and they’ll be more likely to turn to you when things go wrong, or they feel upset.
If you’re concerned about your child having access to the NGL app, you can use Qustodio tools to block individual apps, specific social media websites, and any other content you believe could be harmful.
By teaming age-appropriate boundaries with ongoing, honest communication about apps like NGL, we’re sure you’ll be able to help your child build healthy social media habits, while looking out for their digital wellbeing as a family.