If you’re anywhere close to the internet, you may have heard about the new app called ‘Sarahah’. These little white envelopes floating on green backgrounds are the new toys for social media users, who have been using the app to seek validation from anonymous sources.
Sarahah allows users to leave messages on other users’ profiles, without revealing their identity. The app has topped the charts on Apple store in 30 countries in July and has amassed a billion page views and 300 million users since its launch in February.
But this ‘constructive feedback’ mechanism is slowly taking a turn for the worse and has become a platform for easy anonymous cyberbullying – rape and murder threats included.
With several experts pointing to how social media users measure self-esteem on the basis of the number of likes, is it any wonder why this online anonymous ‘feedback form’ seems to have captured the imagination of the internet? These have been versions of this earlier as well – Ask.fm and Formspring – which have set a bad precedent already.
People who are using Sarahah because everyone around them is, may view the app as just casual fun. However, not many realise that this is but a slippery slope to bullying.
Not everyone is equipped to understand if they can handle such kind of hate and bullying – especially not children and teenagers. Many find themselves battling a storm of anxiety that they cannot deal with.
Sarahah is but a world of dangerous triggers that have the potential to tip them off the edge and harm them.
‘It’s Like Asking Passersby On Roads to Comment On You’
Psychologist Priyanka Mittal says such apps are like standing on the road and asking every passerby to comment on you – but worse. How is any of this ‘feedback’ useful – be it positive or negative?
Besides the bullying, the app also brings with it the pressure to be popular by stimulating an unhealthy sense of competition – Do I have more messages than my friends? Do I have more positive messages than anyone else? Teens are at an age where they’re always looking for such validation, so they’re more prone to using these apps.
Mainly those who are not getting that kind of recognition in their personal spaces, homes or schools, are more prone to go there and seek this external validation. It’s quite damaging, whether it’s positive or negative. The negative feeds into the low self esteem of an already vulnerable child. And if a positive comment comes across it’s good but it may also amount to a bloated self-esteem. It’s not healthy either way.Dr Priyanka Mittal, Psychologist
Most of this so-called ‘feedback’ is based on the social media profiles you have created, Dr Mittal says. If you are seeking valid feedback, then this app is rather useless because for one, you don’t know who is dishing out these comments, and two, most of the ‘feedback’ is rather superficial.
Sarahah Founder Defends the App
Dr Mittal feels that these apps should have moderators, since going totally anonymous can prove harmful. “For adolescents, putting certain boundaries is important, it should tell them that you won’t get away with shaming a person to this degree and passing a malicious comment,” says Dr Mittal.
Even as the misuse grows, the makers of Sarahah – which employs three people – have defended the platform and have said they have all the safety measures in place.
“Misuse is a challenge for all social networks. We’ve taken a lot of measures, but I don’t want to give details because I don’t want to make the misuser’s job easier,” Sarahah app founder ZainAlabdin Tawfiq told BBC.
The popularity of Sarahah has also spawned a number of websites that claim they can reveal the identity of the sender of the messages. These have all proven to be false and the founder has dismissed them as inauthentic. However, Tawfiq has said that the user identity can be revealed if required in cases that have gotten way out of hand. However, he failed to elaborate on how these cases are decided.
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