Toward the middle of June, a new app called Sarahah popped up on the iTunes store. Within days it had carved itself a place inside the top 200 free apps. Within a month it was number one.
Today, the Saudi-built success story has so far topped the iTunes charts in 30 countries, and is having similar success on Google’s Play Store with in excess of five million downloads.
But Sarahah’s phenomenal popularity isn’t the only thing that’s got people talking, it’s the way it’s being used by bullies.
What is Sarahah?
Sarahah (an Arabic word that roughly translates to ‘frankness’ or ‘honesty’) is an anonymous messaging service created by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq.
Initially designed as a platform for providing private, constructive criticism in the workplace, the 29-year-old modified it for social use in 2016 and ultimately launched an app-based English-language version in the middle of this year.
It now positions itself as a service that “helps people self-develop by receiving constructive anonymous feedback”, and according to Tawfiq more than 300 million messages have been sent so far.
How does it work?
Sarahah works by giving each of its users an account and a custom URL that links to it. Whoever has that link then has the ability to leave anonymous message for the user.
This anonymity means that, unlike other social messaging services, communication is entirely one-way – the recipient has no means of responding.
While users were initially sharing their Sarahah URL among their friends and colleagues, it wasn’t long before people began casting their net wide, soliciting feedback from followers and strangers via social media channels like Facebook and Instagram.
But the popularity of Sarahah really took off with a major update issued by image- and video-sharing phenomenon, Snapchat. The July 5 update allowed users to post URLs within their Snaps for the first time, and plenty of Sarahah users began using it to direct others to their account.
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What do teens use it for?
As a Sydney-based 17-year-old told Mamamia, “The messages are usually more likely to be statements about the person, and most of the time it’s criticism. It’s really just an excuse to cyberbully.”
With no way to be identified, no way to respond, it’s a troll’s paradise.
The reviews of the app reflect this.
“I have seen some of the appalling comments teenagers at high school have written to their classmates via this app, hiding behind anonymity,” wrote one iTunes user. “I understand constructive criticism, but who checks on those telling others no one likes them, that they losers and should kill themselves?”