Slice Of Life: Caught the sarahah bug, yet?

When I first heard the word Sarahah it sounded suspiciously like a Bollywood movie, which had just been released. Upon further investigation, I learnt that it is an Arabic word which means honesty. Sarahah is an app everyone is talking about. If you haven’t heard of it, or haven’t yet been hit by a message which someone shared from their Sarahah handle, then chances are you aren’t a social media user. Right from Facebook, to Instagram to Twitter, everybody is talking about Sarahah.

It is an app, which was launched in June 2017, by a Saudi developer, ZainAlabdin Tawfiq. The app crossed millions of downloads both in the playstore as well as on ios platforms.  Within a month, it was the number one most downloaded app in over 30 countries and it currently boasts of  30 million users, at the time of filing this story.

Tawfiq had initially started it as a website, where colleagues could give anonymous feedback to others. The website which still exists despite the popularity of the app  has two sections — one where you can give anonymous feedback to your colleagues, and another to your friends.  But whether it is the website, or the app on your phone that you choose to use, the key feature of Sarahah is the anonymity factor. Unless the person who messages you, chooses to reveal his or her  identity there is no way to know who sent you the message. You also cannot reply to the message, privately. However, you can share the message you receive  on social media.

Many parents were up in arms against the app, as there were reports of cyber-bullying and hate mongering.  Parents wanted the app to be shut down, as they were terrified that it would adversely affect the self-esteem of their teens that were using the app. There are also a large number of people who failed to understand what the fuss was all about. ‘Why would anyone want to receive an anonymous message? We have corporate measures for giving anonymous feedback, during appraisals,’ said a top-level corporate executive that I spoke to.

The founder of Sarahah, Tawfiq clarifies that there are measures in place to check abuse of the medium. He asserts that the risk of cyber-bullying exists on all social media platforms.

To check out what the fuss was about, and to see if I would receive hate messages, I downloaded the app. I presumed it would be easier for people to tell me that they hated me (if they did) if there was a veil of anonymity. Within minutes I began getting messages, and I must admit, it was exciting. The interface itself was very simple, and pleasingly done.

Sharing was very easy, and if you chose to share the messages, it came with a beautifully organised readymade template, and the hashtag, as well as a mention of twitter handle of Sarahah. With so many built-in features, which were extremely useful  it was  not hard to  see why it might have gone viral.

I braced myself for messages of hate and anger, but I was pleasantly surprised. I received a message, where a person said he(or she) was on the verge of suicide, and it was my books that saved him(or her). Out of all the messages that I received, there was not a single message of hate or anger.

Curious to see if I was an exception, I asked other people. Most of them reported that their experience was positive. When I ran a twitter poll, asking people whether their experience was positive or negative, majority of them said that they had positive experiences. There will always be groups on internet, which troll others hiding behind anonymous handles. Twitter and many other social media accounts let you open an id with a fake name. The danger from Sarahah is just like the danger from those platforms. It is not any more and not any less. It is inherent, if you decide to be on the social media.

Parents, educators and other people in authority must speak to teens, and make them understand that there is more to life than some anonymous messages posted on an app. If their self-esteem indeed is taking a toll because of one single app, then it is an indication that they ought to get involved in many more activities, and make some real friends.

A single app cannot be held responsible for  fragile self-esteem. At best it can be taken as yet another thing for amusement. But like everything else, too much of it means you have an imbalance, and it is time to set that right.

You don’t need an anonymous app for doing that.

 (The writer is the author of eight bestselling books)

Columnist: 
Preeti Shenoy