How a 'platform for cyberbullying' became the most downloaded app

Sarahah is a social media portal that lets you send anonymous messages, and then the trolling follows.

 |  4-minute read |   09-08-2017
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In an age where online trolling is a menace, a new app – Sarahah – which experts claim "promotes cyber bullying", is kicking up a storm with its rising popularity. Though still relatively unknown in India, the app has spread like wildfire across rest of the world. Official figures reveal that it's getting far greater traction than other known apps like Snapchat or Facebook. 

Sarahah was launched as recently as February 2017 as a website. But, within just 30 days it brought in 2.5 million users in Egypt, 1.7 million in Tunisia and 1.2 million in Saudi Arabia. However, as it turns out, this was just the beginning. It was then turned into an app and arrived on Google's Playstore and Apple's App Store in June. Then, within a matter of weeks, it climbed to the top of the download charts.

But what is Sarahah?

Essentially, an anonymous messaging service, Sarahah's creator say that it helps people "discover their strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from colleagues and friends in a private manner".  

Initially, Sarahah existed as a website with a simple purpose of allowing employees to post anonymous feedback to their employers. The website served as an efficient channel for employers to receive constructive criticism on the organisation. Understanding its potential, its Saudi Arabia-based developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq soon decided to expand this idea and apply it to personal use. 

An update to the website soon allowed friends and family to share feedbacks on their loved ones without revealing their identity. The feature was lapped up by users, which prompted Tawfiq to turn Sarahah into a full-fledged social media portal that now even allowed even unknown people to send users anonymous messages. 

How does it work?

Upon installing the application and registering for the service, users are given a link, which depending on the user's privacy choice, is shared with friends or made public to the world. Anyone with the link then can send users messages, but the recipient has no way of knowing who they are from. Though the idea of anonymous messages has been explored by other social media portals in the past, in the case of Sarahah, what sets it apart is the fact that there is no way the user can reply to the message. 

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Where did the trouble start?

Sarahah, since its appearance on Android and iOS' app store, has spread like wildfire in the west, and much of it is because how it integrates with Snapchat. The integration with the picture-sharing app has made Sarahah a tool to anonymously give feedback on shared stories and images. 

Popularity among teenagers coupled with the freedom afforded by anonymity has turned Sarahah into the choicest tool for rampant cyber-bullying. Multiple cases have been reported where young teens and pre-teens have been subjected to untraceable, unsavoury comments and racist remarks, and in some cases, even serious attempts at gross cyber-bullying. A review posted on Google Play read, “My 13-year-old sister uses this and she got a death threat aimed at our 2-year-old brother.”

The problem at hand

Cyber bullying is hardly a new phenomenon, and has existed in different forms across multiple social media portals such as Twitter, Facebook, etc for years now. However, with Sararah ensuring complete anonymity and thus ridding users of any responsibility whatsoever for their actions, the platform has become a sought after tool for cyber-bullying.

As expected, most of the instances of cyber-bullying through the app appear to be cases of teenage users throwing caution to the wind and mishandling the unbridled freedom that the app provides.

However, there is more at play here than just a few adolescents not being able to comprehend the consequence of their actions. Sarahah, with its anonymity factor, is becoming the weapon of choice for trolls. As such, a serious discussion needs to take place over the powers of such apps.

Sararah users should be made aware that nothing in this day and age is completely anonymous. In the case of a criminal investigation, even companies promising anonymity are bound by law to reveal information with the authorities.

If Sarahah has to stay online, it should take the responsibility for making its users understand the limits of their promised anonymity. 

Also read: To be gay in India and not belong: Aligarh needs to be watched

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