There’s a new secret messaging app that takes an entirely difficult angle than Snapchat and goes somewhere even Facebook may not go. Sarahah allows users to send messages anonymously, and millions of people are already using it in many countries, even though it was just in February.
Sarahah: the honesty app
The app was created by Saudi developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq and operates on a simple rule: honesty first. It’s available in English and Arabic in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Sarahah’s creator wanted to enable “receiving honest feedback” from employees and friends “in a private manner. He says he originally built it so that people could voice their opinions about situations and people in the workplace without fearing the consequences from what they say.
The name of the social network is Arabic for “honesty,” but unfortunately in many cases, it’s being used to spread hatred rather than constructive criticism. Although the app was originally created to be a workplace app, American teens quickly picked it up and started using it, drawn by the anonymity it offers and the ability to gossip about their classmates without people knowing who they are.
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Sarahah is so popular that it landed at the top of the App Store in more than 30 countries in June, the month it launched on iOS. The BBC reported in February that the site had over 270 million views and 20 million users in a matter of weeks, and data from Alexa indicated that it was one of the most popular sites in Egypt.
How Sarahah works
It may seem a little strange that it’s even possible for people to gossip about those they know on Sarahah because the social network is anonymous, but here’s how it works. Essentially, it prevents direct communications between members. No one knows who is sending a particular message, and no one can reply to any messages that are posted.
After downloading the app, users must create an account on the social network before they can begin to receive messages. Then they share their profile names with people they know via other social networks, or other Sarahah users can add them by searching for their username if they know it. This enables others to send them messages anonymously.
To send a message, users just click on the link of another user’s profile, and they’re then greeted by the instruction, “Leave a constructive message.” Then just type the message and hit “send.” All the messages a user receives are shown in a sort of news feed, and they can favorite the messages they like, forward messages on, or delete the messages they don’t want to look at. It’s even possible to report a message, although it’s unclear what users accomplish by doing that.
Sarahah users can’t find out who sent any messages or reply to any of them. Just about the only defense that’s in the app is the ability to block a particular sender if a message they receive is too offensive. In fact, the ability to block some users was added only recently, according to The Telegraph. Although the reason for it being added isn’t given, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to think of one very good reason. It’s also possible to block your profile from appearing in search by disabling it and prevent users who aren’t on the social network from being able to send you a message.
Constructive criticism or a tool of hatred?
A quick review of how the app works makes it easy to see why some tech watchers are so concerned about it. The creator maintains that he created it as a tool for self-improvement by way of receiving constructive criticism. However, the anonymous nature of it means that it can easily be used for cyber-bullying, and Sarahah has gone viral among teens in the U.S.
New York Magazine spoke with teens who are obsessed with the app to find out why they are drawn to it, and most say that it’s all about the gossip and anonymity. Some compared the app to other anonymous messaging apps that have come and gone in recent years, either by crashing and burning or just fading in popularity, such as Ask.fm and Yik Yak.
According to New York Magazine, teens who use Sarahah have a Snapchat app first. Then they create a Sarahah account and use Snapchat to spread the custom link to their account, enabling people to send them anonymous messages. Maybe this is why Verto Analytics found a decline in engagement on Snapchat despite the increase in user numbers. Teens are signing up for Snapchat and then hopping onto the new viral network. They’re also using Snapchat to share images of some of the comments they receive, especially the complimentary ones.