Sarahah, an anonymous messaging app skyrocketing in popularity among U.S. teens, promotes honest feedback but could be a tool for cyberbullying, critics say.
Sarahah ranks at the top of free downloads on Apple’s U.S. App Store and the Google Play store, outpacing Instagram and YouTube, among others, reports Apptopia. It’s available for both Apple iOS and Android operating systems.
The official Sarahah site says the app, whose name means “candor” in Arabic, creates a kind of social network that allows users to anonymously receive feedback from coworkers and friends. Anonymity encourages honesty, says the site, which says the app will improve friendships by letting users discover strengths and areas for improvement.
Sarahah users can search for other people they know, then send them anonymous messages – which the app encourages users to keep “constructive,” says Fortune. Filters allow users to exert some control over who can send them messages, but Sarahah does not allow replies to messages.
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Created by Saudi Arabian developer Sain al-Abidin Tawfiq, Saraha started development as a website in 2016, reports Mashable. The original goal was to help employees provide unfiltered feedback to their employers.
The initial website version failed to attract much interest, so Tawfiq retooled it as a downloadable app, Mashable said. The app quickly took off among teenagers in Arab-speaking regions, and an English-language version debuted in June.
A recent Snapchat update allowing users to post links in their snaps sent Sarahah downloads skyrocketing, according to another Mashable story. Teens are using the new link attachment to to upload screenshots of Sarahah messages and attach a link to their Sarahah page.
Whatever Tawfiq’s intentions, the ability to send anonymous messages without repercussions seems tailor-made for cyberbullying, reports Business Insider in a story quoting some negative iTunes App Store reviews.
“My son signed up for an account and within 24 hrs someone posted a horrible racist comment on his page including saying that he should be lynched,” one user posted. “The site is a breeding ground for hate.”
“I don’t recommend going on here unless you wish to be bullied,” another wrote.
Others, however, reported more positive experiences.
“Sarahah is a great way to see how people feel about you, which sure can bring negative comments but if you can't deal with those then you shouldn't be using your phone for anything social because you'll find that in every app where there's real people on it,” wrote one user.
The app also has already been the target of at least one hoax, which spread alarm by falsely reporting Sarahah would soon be revealing the identities of anonymous message-senders, said Hoax Alert. A message on the Sarahah site also denies the story.