secretThanks to anonymous apps like Secret and Whisper, no one is safe from unsubstantiated rumor, malicious gossip or, in some cases, full-on cyberbullying.

At least, almost no one.

Even in the anonymous world, it seems that who you are, and your job in the real world, can have an impact on the staying power of mean posts.  A few days ago a Secret user posted a rumor about TechCrunch editor-in-chief Alexia Tsotsis. It read “Alexia Tsotsis is ‘stepping down’ tomorrow.” Fairly innocuous as far as Secret gossip goes and, as with many rumors on the app, it proved to be wrong, given that Tsotsis appears to be still in her job.

The original post, however, prompted a range of vitriolic comments from other users, mostly bashing Tsotsis’ writing and reporting skills. Tsotsis defenders soon replied, leading to still more users posting links to specific articles they had issue with. Sadly, inevitably, other comments verged into more personal and offensive territory

So far, so Secret.

But then came something new. The next day, the entire comment thread had disappeared. “Way to go censorship,” one user commented. “Must be secret mods.” The original poster denied responsibility: “Wtf, I didn’t delete them…”

The story gets a little weirder. The following day these new comments about censorship had been deleted as well, replaced with only one comment that said, “We decided to delete the comments in this secret due to abuse.”

And yet, Secret CEO David Byttow told Pando the company didn’t write that reply, suggesting instead that it must have come “from a user.”

The way comment moderation works on Secret, Byttow explained, is that the original poster can delete any comments, or the Secret itself. Commenters can delete their own comments too. Users can “report” comments they believe are inappropriate, but can’t actually delete them. The only people who can delete entire threads are Secret moderators or the original poster, who denied doing so on the comments thread.

When pressed over email on whether Secret moderators had deleted the thread Byttow went silent. For her part, Tsotsis told me she didn’t ask Secret to remove the thread.

If Secret’s moderators did step in independently — and right now, that’s the only option if the original poster and Tsotsis are telling the truth — the move raises an interesting question. What’s the bar for moderation on an anonymity app that wants to combat cyber bullying? Will any negative comments that identify someone by name get removed? And will the deletion include the entire thread?

That seems a little heavy-handed. But then again, so does leaving up comments that attack regular users, but proactively censoring those that might offend the editor of an influential tech blog, which just happens to have been one of Secret’s most vocal cheerleaders.

Update: Byttow responds…

We don’t comment on what we do or don’t take down. But I can assure you that we definitely don’t delete entire threads or slew of comments based on bias (such as your post may suggest toward the end).

I don’t think OP is telling you the truth. But then again, who knows really — we sure don’t, and that’s by design.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]