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Sarahah: An app for honest feedback, and now a breeding ground for nameless haters

The anonymous messaging app Sarahah is all the rage right now, but as much as it is a platform for receiving candid feedback from others, the app has also become an easy instrument of abuse.

more lifestyle Updated: Aug 13, 2017 15:55 IST
Aditya Dogra
Messages like these have become a common form of harassment for the users of the new app Sarahah.
Messages like these have become a common form of harassment for the users of the new app Sarahah.

The truth is out there. And so is a lot of abuse that has nothing to do with the truth. Sarahah, the app of the moment, was meant to send some truth our way; what a lot of people are getting instead is unbridled abuse.

Sarahah helps you in discovering your strengths and areas of improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner — this is how the developers describe Sarahah, the messaging app guaranteeing anonymity for commenters; its popularity has spread like wildfire.

The app, built by Saudi programmer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, gets its name from the Arabic word for ‘frankness’ or ‘candour’, and it first started getting noticed in June this year. While it has millions of downloads in India and has found its way into the smartphone of every youngster, it has also become the new breeding ground for hatemongers.

A concept that seems like a great platform for receiving and sharing all the mutual admiration — or constructive criticism — has turned into a nightmare for some, no thanks to the trolls who are unforgiving and relentless when it comes to slinging the worst kind of mud in the guise of ‘honest feedback’.

Here are a few cases:

ATTEMPTS AT SHAMING AND DISCOURAGING

The screenshot that a user named Rafiul shared on his Facebook profile.

Rafiul Alom Rahman, a former student of M.A. English Literature (Delhi University), posted a screenshot of the hate messages he had been receiving on the app and wrote a Facebook post: “Okay. Sarahah has been wonderful to me! But here’s something I couldn’t hide. A stark reminder that if you are a woman or a queer person or someone who actively advocates sexual rights in the public space, you are bound to receive such messages. What is creepy is to think that these people are on my Facebook friends [list]. To the trolls, if you thought this would shame me and discourage me from what I do, you are so bloody wrong! I am here and I will continue pushing my agenda! Chill.”

LEWD REMARKS AND SEXUAL ADVANCES

An example of the kind of messages that a user named Amrita has been receiving.

Amrita Joseph*, a graphics professional from Gurgaon, says that her Sarahah profile has been flooded with lovely messages by her friends and colleagues (some of which she could figure out, and others she could not). But being a woman, she has also received a fair share of lewd remarks from trolls who have also asked for sexual favours. “I have people asking [for my] bra size, what my favourite sexual positions are, and if I’d like to try them with some stranger and more,” she says. “Some of them have even gone ahead and written about how they admire a certain body part [of] me, and I can easily say it wasn’t a compliment. Thankfully, the app has a great blocking mechanism that keeps the hate at bay.”

BIG DISPLAY OF HOMOPHOBIA

A message that Himanshu received on the Sarahah app.

Himanshu Kohli*, another user, says that his orientation has been a major reason behind the hate on the app. “I’m gay and I know that hate kind of comes with the very mention of that — the same goes for this app. I’ve got messages that have told me to seek a cure, have talked about how unmanly I am, and how I became gay because I have a fascination for the wrong genitalia. Curbing this is hard, but I don’t really care about this. It’s just another app for me,” he says.

*Names have been changed on request.

What the experts have to say:

KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SIGNING UP FOR

Delhi-based psychologist Ankit Katyal feels that users should be ready for everything when signing up for such an app. “Sarahah is meant for honest feedback, and honest does not mean nice in any way. Youngsters expect to get only good messages that will give them something to share on social media, but [they] should be well aware of the fact that hate, too, will find its way. Bullying isn’t justified, and one can choose to stay away from the app or uninstal it when they feel it’s getting to them, but users should know what they’re signing up for,” he says.

WE ARE IN AN ERA OF HATE

Anushri Jain, a media researcher who specialises in social apps, feels that the Sarahah app is just a small part of the hate circle that is social media. “Isn’t all of social media just the same? Hate is everywhere, and when you add the benefit of anonymity to it, it grows. People who have to bully others or call them names do it even in the open. Sarahah shouldn’t be taken too seriously and users should learn to segregate the bad from the good. There’s a lot of good that the app gives you,” she says.

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