Every now and again, an app comes around that sparks huge amounts of controversy. Sarahah is one of those apps, and it’s got parents in the UK and US on their toes merely a month after it made its way to their teenager’s smartphones.
But what is so disconcerting about Sarahah? Well, let us try and explain.
What is Sarahah?
Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service. Once a user registers, they can give the link to their friends or post it publicly online and anyone with that link can send them anonymous messages. The recipient has no way of knowing who posted the message or responding to it in any way.
Sarahah used to only exist as be a website created by the Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq. It had a very simple purpose — it allowed employees to post anonymous feedback to their employers. It gave a voice to those who had something to say, but never spoke up for fears that they could be fired.
Later on, Tawfiq thought that this concept could apply on a personal level too, with friends and acquaintances anonymously giving feedback to each other. That part of the website is what actually made it popular in the Middle East and Africa. However, a little more was needed for it to take off in the West.
On June 13 this year, Tawfiq released an app version of Sarahah on both the iOS App Store and Google Play, and it spread like wildfire, entering the Top Three Free apps on both platforms in no time. This surge in popularity was also aided by the app’s Snapchat integration, which made it far easier for teens to use. And where there are anonymous teens, there is trouble.
Why is Sarahah making headlines?
Really, the issue with Sarahah is as old as the internet itself. When people are allowed anonymity and know there will be no repercussions for their actions, they can say and do whatever they want.
Many parents and their children have reported that the app has become the newest platform for cyberbullying. The unpleasant comments teens have been getting vary in number and severity, with some telling NY Mag’s Select/All column that they haven’t received any negative messages at all. Others, however, report they have received death threats, with one user saying in a Google Play review, “My 13-year-old sister uses this and she got a death threat aimed at our 2-year-old brother.” That’s not okay.
Cyberbullying, unfortunately, isn’t a new phenomenon and it definitely didn’t start with Sarahah. But the anonymous nature of the app does lend itself to toxic comments — if you’re thinking of using it, I’d proceed with caution.