By David Z. Morris
September 17, 2017

The iTunes App Store has a new king of the hill. Last week, a new app called tbh (lower case) moved into the top spot on the iTunes App store. It’s a teen-focused anonymous social app similar to previous ephemeral hits like Yik Yak, Secret, and, most recently, Sarahah. But it takes a big twist on the formula that might make it more durable.

Mashable’s dive into the app shows a platform that, while anonymous, has strict guardrails that enforce relentless positivity. Instead of allowing free-form snark, tbh offers users a series of polls where they can vote on which of their friends “Always knows what to say” or “Makes you laugh the hardest.”

“Tbh” stands for “to be honest,” which adults might associate with veiled insults. But among teens, especially on social media, the phrase has a more positive connotation. The app launched in early August, was developed by a little-known California team called Midnight Labs, and is currently only available in nine U.S. states.

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Winning polls on tbh rewards users with game-like points, but none of the questions are negative or hurtful. Based on its success, the app seems to be tapping into teens’ desire to establish social status and identity, but redirects it away from the cyberbullying that has quickly taken over, and doomed, prior anonymous apps.

Sarahah, for instance, has already fallen out of the top download charts on both iTunes and Google Play, as we predicted when it first spiked in July. Negative reviews on the Play Store have hammered Sarahah’s rating, though as much for technical glitches as for the plague of anonymous bullying it has enabled.

The rise of tbh could reduce parents’ worries about cyberbullying, though it doesn’t address a deeper problem: Its “gamified” structure still feeds the distraction and sense of disconnection that are causing epidemic levels of depression and isolation among today’s smartphone-addicted teens.

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