Yik Yak. Whisper. Secret. Now, Sarahah.
In an era of anonymous apps, things never stay pleasant for long. Sarahah is hoping to change that.
In mid-July, the hissing new anonymous messaging app beat the mainstream apps like Snapchat and Facebook in the Apple App Store.
Sarahah, which released in Saudi Arabia in November 2016, invites members to leave anonymous messages on other users’ profiles. But unlike its competitors, the messaging tool includes a reminder to “leave a constructive message :)” — which the company hopes will encourage positivity.
The app, with a name that means “honesty” in Arabic, was initially intended as a way for corporate employees to offer constructive feedback on their managers’ performance — kind of like a suggestions box.
But the built-in cue to play nice isn’t totally working. Sarahah is already entangled in a debate about whether anonymity helps on the Internet, or whether it just hurts.
“There’s really nothing new about what this is doing,” says David Ryan Polgar, digital citizenship expert and head of trust and safety for Friendbase, a virtual world for teens.
“The larger point that we need to decide when designing these environments is pretty philosophical — at our core, ‘how are people? If we leave them to their own devices, are they going to be toxic online or kind?’”
Founder Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq says the app has taken various precautions against cyberbullying. For example, it has a feature that filters keywords and prevents certain messages from being sent. It’s also added a tool to allow users to block accounts.
“We’re taking this as a serious issue, and we’re focused on [building] new features,” he says. “I don’t want users to stray from the goal of Sarahah.”
As of August 2017, the app has more than 62 million users. Tawfiq told CNN Tech the app experienced gigantic growth among younger users after teens started posting Sarahah messages on Snapchat.
“I told myself in November, ‘You’ll be satisfied with 1,000 messages’ and then I’ll call it a success,” he said. “But now, we’re getting close — day by day — to 1 billion messages sent.”
Other social media networks have endeavored to tackle cyberbullying. Under pressure from advocates and users, Twitter has vowed to crack down on harassment. It’s also launched new filter tools, better moderation and a human team reviewing reports of harassment.
Meanwhile, anonymous apps advocates claim the platforms’ anonymity allows for “authenticity”; critics say it opens the door for cyberbullies.