What's all the hype about Sarahah?

  • Awareness
  • 30/08/2017
  • BIK Team and Croatian Safer Internet Centre

Every couple of months we hear about a new application that causes enormous interest and, sometimes, controversy. Sarahah is one such app. With the help of the Croatian Safer Internet Centre (SIC), we've prepared this article to provide more information about the app, while also outlining some tips and precautions when using it.

What is Sarahah?

Sarahah ("honesty" in Arabic) is an anonymous service for answering and sending messages. Once a user registers, they can share a chat conversation, link, or publish it publicly on the web, and anyone with that link can send anonymous messages or questions to them. The recipient has no way of knowing who the sender is.

Sarahah originated as a website developed by developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq with the simple purpose of anonymous communication with employers. Employees were able to send anonymous messages to their employers, and so Sarahah soon became a tool for honest communication in the workplace. Later, Tawfiq considered that this concept could be applied on a private level and that friends and acquaintances could give anonymous feedback to each other. That part of the website is what made the site popular in the Middle East and Africa. However, little more was needed in order for the website to go west.

Earlier this year, on 13 June 2017, Tawfiq released the Sarahah app on iOS App Store and Google Play where it spread like wildfire, becoming one of the top three most downloaded free apps on both platforms in a very short time. It is now also possible to link Sarahah with Snapchat which has increased visibility, particularly among young people. This popularity has also helped to integrate Sarahah within the Snapchat application, again making it easier for young people to use it. As we know from past experiences, young people combined with anonymous online services can lead to challenges.

The application has become hugely popular, and it is striking for two key reasons. One, it is very easy to use. All you have to do is log in and then share your ID with your friends. After that you will get messages that appear in simple and easy-to-read conversation bubbles. Posting a message is easy, and receiving messages is even easier. Two, users are anonymous and you cannot find out the identity of the person asking questions. If, however, you're offended or hurt by any content you receive, you can block the sender.

Why has Sarahah attracted so much media attention?

Indeed, the main issue with Sarahah is as old as the internet: when people have anonymity, and know that there will be no consequences for their behaviour, they can say and do whatever they want. Many parents and their children are reporting that the application is the latest internet abuse platform, while numerous users have reported that they had been abused or overwhelmed by harsh comments, threats or hate speech. Let's remember, however, just a couple of years ago this was the case with a familiar site, ASKfm, which overcame many of the challenges and is still active today.

Abuse on the web, unfortunately, is not a new phenomenon and certainly has not started with Sarahah, but the anonymous nature of the application can exacerbate it.

Tips for using the Sarahah application

  • Be kind. If you submit comments and questions on the application, try to be constructive and positive in what you say: honesty does not have to be brutal! As with any online service, think twice before you click.
  • Prepare yourself. Before you install Sarahah, consider how you will deal with possible negative or malicious comments. If you are not sure if you're ready, don't install it.
  • Only share your ID with friends and people you trust. Do not post it publicly. In the "Settings" of the Sarahah app, disable browsing in searches and allowing unauthorised users to send messages. This limits the number of people who will be able to send you a message.
  • Block abusers. The app lets you block senders. The app will not tell you who sent the message but will ensure that you no longer receive messages from the person you've blocked.
  • Delete the application. If you no longer want to communicate through this app then remove it. You can live without Sarahah. If you feel bad about anything you've experienced online, talk to someone you trust.
  • Ask for help. If you receive hurtful or malicious messages and harassment when using Sarahah, it is a form of electronic abuse. In this case, be sure to block the sender. If you need help or advice, speak to your parents, teachers or another trusted adult, or contact your national Safer Internet Centre in Europe.

As with many of these apps, the main issue is about behaviour although it is worrying that some of the default settings enable public searching and the ability to receive messages from non-registered users. At the time of writing, concerns have also emerged that the app could be uploading phone contacts to Sarahah's servers. This is apparently happening for a planned "find your friends" feature in the future. The app developers have subsequently said that the data request will be removed on the next update.

Check out the Sarahah entry in the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Guide to Online Services. The Guide to Online Services aims to provide key information about some of the most popular apps, social networking sites and other platforms which are commonly being used by children and young people today.

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