For the last week, I’ve been noticing the millennials on my Facebook page—yes, some young people do deign to mix with me—sharing a link to something called Sarahah. Being a geriatric, I assumed that the strange looking Sixties culottes-meets-Arabian pants, the sharara gharara, had made a return. After all, all things retro from gramophones to compasses are making a return. So why not the sharara? But it seems that the children are not raving over the strange looking pajama bottoms which Asha Parekh made famous. They’re raving over something far worse.
Sarahah you see, is an anonymous online messaging service. Like we already didn’t have enough problems in the online world thanks to the anonymity social media offers us—and thanks to our friendly trolls, stalkers and general sociopaths.
So I spent a day logging on to Sarahah and figuring out what the craze was. And I have come to the conclusion that only the crazed can want to be on this app. Sarahah was created in Saudi Arabia and currently has over 300 million users. It’s essentially a more with-it version of Snapchat. When you log into Sarahah, you get a link which you can share with your friends or publicly. People can then send you an anonymous message saying anything they want to you. And vice versa. Currently, you can’t respond to a message.
Also read: Deciphering Sarahah, a social media app which is all about anonymity
It’s so popular that it is number one in Apple’s App store. The promo for the app touts it as a way of getting anonymous “honest" feedback from colleagues and friends. And the name of the app means “honesty" in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia as a birthplace for an anonymous messaging tool makes sense, given that you might have your tongue plucked out for speaking too fondly to a member of the opposite sex.
Now don’t take me for a killjoy. If the youngsters need new toys to entertain themselves with, they should have new toys. After all, we had ICQ and Orkut and then Skype and then Facebook and Twitter— where all decent behaviour comes to die. But is this really such a wise idea? In the age of online trolling and cyber-bullying, do we really need yet another app or social media tool which allows people to send you messages anonymously? Why not just hand random people a stick to wallop you with in real life? It might turn out to be more fun.
Okay, let’s take it that the app is not being used for cyber-bullying. It’s only being used by the pure of heart and noble of intention. To tell you what a lovely person you are. Or maybe to express their feelings of lust and love to you. Yes, there will be obscene pictures sent. I cannot imagine otherwise, especially since they are sent to strangers on Twitter, which can still monitor or track users. This is a dream app for Anthony Weiner. But say, everyone desists from sending lewd messages and only sends messages professing love to others. What is the point if the other person doesn’t find out who is sending these messages of love? Isn’t that a little counter-productive? Or maybe I’m being old-fashioned again, and maybe millennials like pining for the objects of their affection while staring at a sent message alert on their phone screens?
But I’m hazarding a guess that an app being primarily aimed at and used by teenagers will not stop short of being converted into the perfect cyber-bullying tool. After all, anyone can access your profile link. Or your name. There’s a search box to do so. And then they can send you any vile comment they want, without fear of being caught out. And since Sarahah has only three staff members for its 300 million users, you can imagine how effectively they will monitor the contents of the messages being sent out. Not that they’ve shown any interest in setting up a monitoring system. This is a recipe for disaster. And I’m surprised no one seems concerned. Sending anonymous messages to people simply makes you a coward, a troll. Not something to aspire to. And definitely not something to provide yet another avenue to indulge in.
Just yesterday, Dhanya Rajendran of NewsMinute went and filed an FIR because she had received 63,000 abusive tweets in a span of a couple of days after she criticized a film starring actor Vijay. I’ve been tagged on some of the tweets she received. They’re from anonymous handles. Yet, the good thing with Twitter is that you can report abuse to Twitter and they will—if you’re lucky—de-activate the handles of the offensive users. You can even block or mute people who annoy you. But Sarahah does not allow you to do any of this. You can’t even reply to someone who messages you. So if someone wants to spew some hate your way, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t even complain to Sarahah because they have no mechanism in place to deal with or monitor such messages.
I’m honestly not surprised that this has emanated from the Middle East and has the most users in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, since speaking to women there can get you into more than a spot of trouble. But what we essentially have in the garb of an anonymous messaging service, is yet another troll magnet social media tool. As if the two we already had weren’t enough. Maybe it would have been better if the flouncy multi-layered sharara had returned instead. After all, the worst that could happen would be the slow death of fashion, not of our online peace and security.