Sarahah debuted in Apple’s App Store just last month but the app, which already surpassed Instagram and Snapchat’s ranks, was labeled a “breeding ground for hate” by several users.
Through Sarahah, people can receive anonymous feedback from their friends or colleagues. The app was developed by Saudi programmer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq. Its name equates to the Arabic word for honesty or frankness.
Tawfiq told Al Jazeera via BBC that his intention for creating the app was to “make presenting criticisms more comfortable.” He knew from experience that some employees find it difficult to talk to their colleagues because of differences in age or rank.
The app was launched in February and that same month, Sarahah managed to attract 5.4 million users in Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. Four months later, the app arrived in the App Store and skyrocketed as one of the platform’s No. 1 top free apps. Tawfiq said that he didn’t expect his app to become popular.
While the purpose of Sarahah is to make users aware of their strengths and weaknesses through candid feedback from the people around them, some users reviewed it as a site where bullies thrive.
Since senders of the feedback can rely on anonymity, users can receive messages ranging from romantic confessions to scathing comments. One user wrote that within 24 hours of downloading the app, his son received a racist comment.
Although App Store displays Sarahah in Arabic, the text becomes English upon installation.
Users can also use the app to deliver praises. However, some have expressed annoyance over people who continuously share screenshots of the compliments that they have received through the app.
Get yourself a girl that doesn't put ".sarahah.com" links on her stories
— Caleb Gose (@CalebGose) July 12, 2017
The app is reminiscent of college-centric app Yik Yak which was also accused of being a tool for perpetuating hateful messages. Several schools including College of Idaho have banned Yik Yak after receiving reports from students who felt threatened by the messages they were getting on the app. Yik Yak officially shut down in 2017 even if investors once valued it at $400 million.
It should be noted that sites that allow discreet messaging do not entirely protect users from authorities. In February, Garret Grimsley from North Carolina was arrested after posting a message on anonymous messaging site Whisper that read, “Don’t go to Cary tomorrow.”
Grimsley allegedly made the online terror threat because non-Muslims “have spit in our faces and trampled our rights.” The police requested the anonymous poster’s IP address from Whisper which led to the arrest of Grimsley.
[Featured Image by Thinkstock]