'Bang with Friends', the sex app for facebook, was launched last week and already boasts over 100,000 users. It's unique service enables you to discreetly select and register an interest in sleeping with friends you find attractive on Facebook; or in the words of its developers, that you are 'down to bang'. They are only then alerted if the interest is reciprocated at which point both parties are notified that they are 'awaiting a bang'.
With an average of five new registrations a minute, it would seem Bang with Friends' developers have serendipitously stumbled on a critical, and potentially lucrative, gap in the online matchmaking market. But the risks abound and while the rules of engagement are being ironed out, the app's potential for causing widespread humiliation and social discord is almost unprecedented.
On the face of it, Bang with Friends appears to be a solution for overcoming your social inhibitions and acting out your fantasies with people you know, with little or no accountability. This might appeal to those closeted-Casanovas out there, but if you consider the scope for abuse and look at Bang with Friends in the context of recent cyber security breaches, you will probably find yourself thinking twice about signing up.
The first issue I have with the application is to do with controlling access. How many times have you forgotten to log off facebook and found yourself with an unexpected new status? I am, of course, referring to the rather puerile past-time of 'fraping': the act of altering the details of someone's facebook page for comic effect. If you're like me, this tends to happen quite regularly (my friends are not 'très sophistiqués') and while I am partially to blame, few of us can claim to be hyper-vigilant about our facebook accounts.
Regardless of whether you're sensitive about people knowing who you fancy, if you take status fraping as a starting point, try to imagine the kind of havoc that could be wreaked on a Bang with Friends account. While it can be embarrassing having to explain to your mum that you haven't actually just come out of the closet on facebook, this pales in comparison to having to gently let down someone who you are now, unwittingly, 'awaiting a bang' with. Or even worse, imagine being on the receiving end of that slighting! I guess you could ostensibly claim to have been the victim of a fraping as well as it's impossible to undo a 'down to bang' selection once it has been made. But come on, how many people are going to believe that? Hardly any, and until a secondary, app-specific, password is introduced, these kind of awkward misunderstandings will be an 'occupational hazard' users will just have to deal with.
My second concern is that there is no way of knowing how secure the platform is. The shortcomings of social media cyber security were highlighted last week when Twitter confirmed that unidentified hackers had accessed approximately 250,000 accounts, possibly obtaining secret user information from them. While very little information of a personal nature is kept hidden on Twitter, the fallout from such a hacking on Bang with Friends would be humiliatingly disastrous, with your objects of lust made known to those you would least want to find out.
Finally, the thing that worries me most about the app is its wider social implications. When boundaries between friends are bypassed through unnatural behaviour, there is a real risk of people becoming confused, embarrassed or hurt. The sense of anonymity that the barrier of a screen gives internet users leads people to behave with less restraint and act on unruly impulses. The psychologist John Suler has called this phenomenon the 'online disinhibition effect' and various studies have been conducted into its impact on human behaviour.
In the case of Bang with Friends, the app's developers view artificialised confidence as a force for good, but the truth is there seem to be more problems associated with the online disinhibition effect than not. Cyber-bullying, flaming and trolling, for instance, have been identified as some of its more insidious side-effects.
While at this stage it is difficult to predict the impact that Bang with Friends will have on users' relationships with each other, I think we can assume it will create complications. When people act on feelings while sat at a computer that they later find hard to explain or conjure up in face-to-face interactions, you can be sure that embarrassment, frustration and anger will follow.
Part of the problem is that the options for expression in Bang with Friends are so limited. There is a whole spectrum of feelings and emotions that come between meeting someone and wanting to get into bed with them. One way for the developers to make it more accessible and socially acceptable (other than changing the name, of course) would be to introduce a simple 'fancies' button. Until such a time though, if you ever find yourself with your cursor hovering over a photo of some friend from school that it never quite happened with, try to remember that age old adage: 'some things are best left unsaid'.