Sarahah: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Being viral is good, but what are the risks and consequences?
Sarahah is the new one in the long line of mobile apps that provide anonymous messaging service to its users. It has got everyone, especially parents with teenage children, on their toes by the controversy it is generating. Lets look into this in more details.
What is Sarahah?
Sarahah means honesty in Arabic. The app allows to you send anonymous messages. You cannot reply back to those messages in any ways. According to Sarahah’s website, “get honest feedback from your coworkers and friends” is the purpose of the app.
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.
What is the Trouble?
“This work reveals something terrible about humanity. It shows how fast a person can hurt you under favorable circumstances. It shows how easy it is to dehumanize a person who does not fight, who does not defend himself. It shows that if he provides the stage, the majority of ‘normal’ people, apparently can become truly violent.”
– Marina Abramović
In 1974, Marina Abramović did a terrifying experiment. At a gallery in her native Belgrade, Serbia, she laid out 72 items on a trestle table and invited the public to use them on her in any way they saw fit. Some of the items were benign; a feather boa, some olive oil, roses. Others were not. “I had a pistol with bullets in it, my dear. I was ready to die.” At the end of six hours, she walked away, dripping with blood and tears, but alive. “How lucky I am,” she says in her still heavy accent, and laughs.
The above social experiment makes a point of bringing out the fundamentally violent nature of the human race under favorable conditions. Once they are sure that there will be no consequences, they can resort to unimaginable degrees of cruelty. Bundle that with anonymity, and we definitely have a ticking bomb in our hands.
The point is, you don’t know what people can do when provided anonymity. Of course, they cannot physically hurt you in this case, but words can be more powerful than you imagine. A license to say whatever one wants with anonymity is just a golden ticket to cyber bullies and online stalkers. They can bully anyone and get away with it. Hell, they can even sexually harass someone and forget about it later. And since the victim cannot reply, fighting back is out of the question.
And just imaging to what depths those bullies and stalkers with get down to. Just one look at the Google Play and App Store reviews and you will get some ideas-
“My 13-year-old sister uses this and she got a death threat aimed at our 2-year-old brother.”
“My friend attempted suicide because of what people were saying to her over this. This app is worse than ask.fm. This needs to be taken off the app store immediately it’s not safe all it is,is a way for kids to harass others with no penalties.” (I sincerely hope this is not true)
History may repeat itself
Back in 2014, a messaging app called Secret had gone viral in a similar fashion. The app allowed users to send anonymous messages on a social platform. Once valued at $100 million, the app was pulled down almost one year later by the developers after several legal tussles and allegations that it encouraged bullying.
“This has been the hardest decision of my life and one that saddens me deeply. Unfortunately, Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company, so I believe it’s the right decision for myself, our investors and our team,” Secret’s founder David Byttow had said in a blog post while announcing the shutdown of the app.
Will Sarahah become the new Secret? I hope not. But unfortunately it’s not up to the app itself!
Am I saying not to use Sarahah? Absolutely not. But proceed with caution. Cyber bullying, sexual harassment and online stalking isn’t a new phenomenon and it certainly did not start with Sarahah. But the anonymous nature of the app lends itself to toxic comments and you should be ready for them. Of course, there will be fun elements and I am sure majority of the hype is just about that. But in face of negativity, you should remember that those comments and remarks are not important for you. People who abuse you hiding behind anonymity are cowards and losers and do not deserve your attention. Ignore them and move on.
What do you say to bullies?
Not today, not ever!
From the other side,