Honesty is the best policy, right? A new app taking the teen world by storm asks you to “Let your friends be honest with you.” The problem is that sometimes that honesty is cruel, harsh, and can lead to cyberbullying. This is yet another anonymous app parents need to know about before their kids ask to download it.
Sarahah (free for iOS and Android) is an anonymous messaging service originally developed for a very good reason. Employers were looking for a way to allow their employees to give feedback, knowing they would be anonymous so could speak freely without fear of getting fired. Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq had success in the business world with the online version of Sarahah (which means "honesty" in Arabic).
Then he decided to release it for personal use, so that friends and non-friends alike could tell each other what they truly thought of one another, anonymously. Two months ago, the creator released the app version in English, and it quickly became hugely popular (it already has 15 million users).
Users register and then get a link they can give to anyone. Once someone has that link, they can send anonymous messages about anything. The person receiving the comments has no way to know who posted the message and has absolutely no way to respond. The recipient is the only one who can see the messages unless they decide to share them. When someone is about to send a comment to another person, the form does ask the commenter to say something constructive. The company believes that getting this honest feedback will help your friendship by finding areas for improvement. This could happen, but being completely honest, of course, can also lead to hurt feelings and cyberbullying.
Snapchat has integrated with the app, now allowing users to post their Sarahah links. Snapchat users embed their Sarahah link into one of the snaps in their Snap Story, then let the anonymous commenting begin. Teenagers told New York Magazine that a lot of guys are posting sexual stuff about girls and that some people are receiving pretty mean comments.
Users seem to either love it or hate it. Of the 22,000 reviews in the Google Play store, 8,000 are five-star ratings, and 8,000 are one-star ratings, with a lot of people complaining about glitches.
While I’m not concerned about technical difficulties, I am concerned about the vulgarity and inappropriate comments anonymous apps always seem to breed. Yes, users can block someone after they post something rude or mean, but it’s tough for teens to unsee those harsh words about themselves.
Of course, Sarahah isn’t the first anonymous messaging app that has made parents and school administrators concerned, and it won’t be the last. My very first entry when I started writing this column was about anonymous apps like Yik Yak, Whisper, After School, and Ask.fm. But this is the latest and with the Snapchat integration, my prediction is that Sarahah will be more widespread than any of its predecessors.