The world probably doesn't need another social network, but a new one launched earlier today that focuses on vetting people while still preserving anonymity could potentially fill a niche for whistleblowers, sources, and leakers.
Called 'Heard,' its key feature is its 'Verified not Identified' badges system, which will tell journalists and others that a source does indeed work for the government, or a big tech firm, or some sort of organization, even though they choose to remain anonymous.
"Instead of the all-or-nothing approach to identity, our system gives users another option of revealing only those badges that are relevant to the conversation," Heard cofounder Dave Vronay told me.
Those badges are awarded to users based on their credentials, such as their occupation and expertise, once it has been verified that the information is correct by what they are calling Badge Providers.
It's like using a burner cell phone.
At the moment, the verification process only works for one title: "tech industry insider," and it has been set up by Heard itself.
It does this by checking if you have an email address from one of the 20 biggest tech companies. If so, it sends a code to that address. You're then asked to upload a specific file to a server that doesn't know who you are but can give you the "badge" that'll stay with you on your Heard profile, Vronay says.
Heard will eventually allow companies and individuals to create their own Badge Providers, meaning that all sorts of job titles and "insiders" could potentially be vetted by the site. By making this a third-party process, Vronay says Heard has plausible deniability if law enforcement asks for its records.
"Heard has no idea how you managed to convince the provider to give that badge to you. At the same time, the Badge Provider has no idea who you are in Heard," Vronay said.
This system will, in theory, allow people to post with authority on a topic that requires it, without necessarily revealing their full identity to the public.
Vronay says that, eventually, badges might be given in person for highly sensitive jobs and government workers.
"This might be something that a major news agency sets up," he said.
Vronay hopes that with enough third-party use of Heard, companies would have their own presence on the site anyway, meaning that getting an official badge from Microsoft, for example, could be done through them.
This, however, is where a healthy dose of skepticism should come in. Heard only works if there's some sort of incentive for companies to want their employees on it, and that usefulness isn't immediately apparent at the moment. There's also the possibility, of course, that anonymity could be destroyed if a company looked into its employees' emails to see who joined Heard.
As for what might be leaked on Heard, Vronay thinks it's "particularly suitable for industry rumors, where many badged people can pile on and vote up reliable content. So things like new iPhone leaks, upcoming mergers or layoffs" could be exposed on Heard.
"The advantage of Heard is that you can make these single-use accounts that are badged. It is like using a burner cell phone," Vronay said.
We've seen lots of companies try to make it easier for whistleblowers to leak documents—and Heard might very well catch on. But given how whistleblowers have operated thus far, maybe you shouldn't hold your breath.