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In this digital age, what are the selective few mobile apps that all women must have on their phones? Wikimedia
  • In the age of instant messaging, Sarahah has now entered the race as a new contender
  • The application lets you send and receive message while hidden behind a screen and a cloak of anonymity
  • The new fad has raised concerns among parents and adults alike, as the app potentially poses threats of cyber bullying and hatred

New Delhi, August 14, 2017: If you have been keeping up with anonymous instant messaging fads of the present generation, you will be familiar with apps like Yik Yak, Whisper, and You are already picturing stories about bullying, racism and all kinds of other demeaning behavior, aren’t you? Anyone looking for an instant messaging app today is spoilt for a choice; there are just so many of them out there! For the last one week, I have been noticing my Facebook feed flooded with people wanting to know ‘what I think about them, but in private’ –by sharing a link to something called Sarahah.

The demise of previously popular anonymous apps like Yik Yak and did not signal the end of a secret sharing app, with a new anonymous message service called Sarahah, riding high on the free app charts, and taking up all of the social media, albeit a little worrying.

Sarahah has garnered immense interest ever since it was launched in June this year by a Saudi Arabian developer. Like we didn’t already have enough problems fostering on different social media handles in the forms of ‘friendly’ trolls, stalkers, and sociopaths that we have another ‘liberal’ player?

Leaving Not-So-‘Constructive’ Messages With Sarahah

Loosely translated to ‘openness’ or ‘honesty’, the app was originally a website introduced in February this year by a developer from Saudi Arabia Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, conceptualized for employees to give honest feedback about their bosses without revealing their identity. However, the app soon became big when people in the Middle East and North Africa began imploring comments from strangers and friends, eventually being picked up by people in the West. Three months later, Sarahah ranks fourth on iOS’ trending apps’ charts and has been downloaded over 5 million times on Google play.

Users sign up and get a unique link which can be then shared on different social media and with friends and followers. Anyone with the link to your personal account is invited by the app to “Leave a constructive message :).”

In an attempt to counter the innumerable phishing accounts, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have long insisted that users register with their real identities. While these platforms continue to be bugged by trolls and online abuse, it, to an extent, helps mitigate cyber bullying and harassment. However, I don’t see the good in allowing users to speak with people anonymously; this can potentially inflict irrevocable damage.

Humans have since long loved to indulge in gossip, which is what draws an increasing amount of people to register with the app. However, while everybody wants to know gossip, nobody wants to be the gossip. Things turn ugly when you are at the receiving end of such trolls.

People feel free to be their worst selves in the aid of anonymity because of which these services are often plagued by bullying and threats of violence.

Sarahah is not a first-of-its kind app, as there have been numerous instant-messaging apps before it that have worked on similar principles. While it cannot be denied that those apps became popular overnight and generated huge profits, another undeniable fact prevails that they all failed in the long run.

While anonymous apps offer an escape from putting up your ‘best face’ on the Internet by letting you say what you truly feel and allowing you to put your ‘true face’, they come with an expiration date. The reason being the very X-factor of these apps- anonymity.

People essentially rely on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to make and sustain relationships. Without any identity and a name to associate with your words, it is impossible to form, maintain and strengthen lasting relationships with others. This associative identity has an inherent continuity, which anonymity doesn’t.

Today, Sarahah has found a massive following, but at what expense? In order to know more about the new fad, reporter Soha Kala from NewsGram spoke with people who have been on the application for a few days, with most people sharing similar feedback-

  • Receiving ‘honest’ feedback is good, but most posts turn offensive after a while
  • Seeking feedback is constructive. But what is the need to share it with the world via social media?
  • A big problem here is the anonymity. Imagine receiving anonymous threats, wouldn’t that augment the danger associated with the message?
  • What’s even more interesting is that a person cannot ‘reply’ to a received message. Pressing the reply button on Sarahah allows the user to forward the message to all different social media platforms.

While some people may use Sarahah for constructive words, it has also become a breeding ground for lewd opinion-holders. Facebook

I will not ask you to succumb to my judgment of the app and instead take a detached stand for the sake of the argument. Assuming that the app doesn’t take the form of cyber bullying and one receives only genuine messages of appreciation and gratitude; of people professing their affection to you. But what will be the point of such messages when you cannot know who has sent it, not to forget there is no way to connect with your secret admirer unless of course, you announce it publicly over social media handles. But here’s another catch—even then it depends on the secret admirer whether he wants to reveal himself to you or not. Doesn’t this make the entire argument a little counter-productive?

Another fact that cannot be denied here is that once you are in, the freedom to hide behind a cloak of anonymity and not be associated whatsoever with your real-world identity is strangely alluring. This provides people with a good opportunity to revel on opinions that they otherwise wouldn’t mouth, of course, in an un-accountable manner or maybe in the form of intended ‘joke’.

This tongue-in-cheek humor, even when anonymous, can be hurtful.

Jokes after all have been long used to soften potentially demeaning point-making. They’re used everywhere – in the form of cheeky placards at protests, at late night comedy shows, during speeches, even at political sessions at the Parliament! Sadly, hatred too, has adopted the pretext of ‘jokes’ to spread its message using such platforms

What happens though when hatred sells so easily as a joke?

And what happens when these apps essentially celebrate such garbage behavior and project that this violence is funny or ‘light-hearted’?

We are always told to take criticism in our stride with a pinch of salt. But who draws the line between criticism and bullying?

A question to be asked here is, what happens when Sarahah stops being taken in ‘good fun’?

Like there are two sides to every coin, on one hand these applications can promote a more patient culture, encouraging people to deal constructively with criticism. It won’t be wrong to say that this can ‘normalize hatred’ to an extent, suggesting that we live in a balanced world with both, winners and losers; where we do both right and wrong and get reprimanded for either.

However, the other, more shattering aspect leads to hatred being embedded into the mainstream culture. Judgment, fear, and its common companion-hostility/violence are becoming a normalized part of our thought-process, eventually also seeking into everyday conversations.

ALSO READ: Children’s Commissioner for England Warns against Overuse of Social Media among Children

In such a scenario, the rise of such platforms that thrive on principles on anonymity, turn ruinous when haters find like-minded people across borders of time and/or distance. This empowers haters, with their networks expanding to magnanimous standards. It is in this context that can be said that anonymous messaging apps like Sarahah reflect every thing that is wrong with our society- it has transformed into a breeding ground for hostile behavior and opinions.

Recent months have seen acts of hate directed towards transgenders, African-Americans, Muslims and many others. Children have, since long reported cases of cyber bullying and the tally of social media stalking and threatening has been ever increasing. In such a scenario, what solutions do you see apps that operate in anonymity provide?

The Blue Whale Challenge is also a clear example of how social media and the Internet can make things ugly. For a person suffering from low self-esteem, the app can have huge implications.

Would we really want to indulge in that?

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.



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