It’s one of the most popular apps on iTunes, even though it was introduced only a few weeks ago: Sarahah (“frankness” or “candor” in Arabic ) is a new social media platform that allows friends to send you messages, totally anonymously.
Sarahaha was created by Saudi developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq with the idea of encouraging constructive criticism. But it’s not for the weak-hearted.
If anything, it’s like a 21st century version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with users acting as Tom and Huck, secretly sitting in on their own funeral. Commenters can reveal crushes, grudges and other secrets, all without revealing their identity.
Reggie Aqui, an openly gay newscaster on San Francisco’s ABC 7, tried Sarahah for 24 hours and received offensive comments about himself, his husband—even their dog.
But there was also a message that had him nearly in tears.
“You’re a role model to those near and far—and for me—a model of how to live life as an out and proud gay man, something I struggle with to this day. Because many days, I feel like a puzzle piece that just won’t fit.”
Is Sarahah for you? That depends on whether you’d appreciate finding out how your friends, lovers, and acquaintances really view you—and whether you could handle not knowing who offered their opinion.
But for every awkward or hurtful message, there are others that are downright uplifting.
Its not surprising that a platform that offers anonymity has become popular with the LGBT community, especially in parts of the world where being out is a risky proposition. (Sarahah is particularly popular in India, Africa and the Arab world.)
I know a lot of people who go through this and it's always baffled me. I've gotten similar reactions about an area in my life I'm not at liberty to discuss openly right now (totally open up in private if you're curious). What matters, in my opinion, is that the people that you care about know and support you. Having a sense of humor about it is also very important. I recommend having a serious conversation with those people so they understand. If you want any support, you've already got mine! #identity #equality #openness #sarahah
You have to be 17 to download the app on iTunes, and you can report or block users, but Sarahah’s potential for cyberbulling is obvious.
— That Goan Boy (@schmmuck) August 13, 2017
A user in India told the Hindustani Times that his sexuality has been a big focus of the messages he’s received. “I’m gay and I know that hate kind of comes with the very mention of that—the same goes for this app,” he says. “I’ve got messages that have told me to seek a cure, how unmanly I am, and how I became gay because I have a fascination for the wrong genitalia.”
Writing in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Timothy Rawles calls Sarahah a lawsuit waiting to happen.
“In the LGBT community being bullied is a real problem and giving a hateful person a platform to spew epithets is a bit like giving them a free pass for homophobia. ’Hey it’s okay, I’m using Sarahah!'”
But does that mean its value should be discredited?
An Atlanta journalist who asked to remain anonymous claims he’s had nothing but positive experiences on Sarahah. “I’ve gotten no negative comments, and it seems easy to integrate with social media.”
Trans YouTuber Melody Maia Monet says she’s received plenty of hate and negativity in her life, but not on Sarahah.
“It led to a date, but that wasn’t really the purpose,” Monet told NewNowNext. “I was curious what would happen if I let people send me messages without consequences. I was relieved they were all positive, though some friends I know weren’t as lucky. I do wish I could reply to some of them.”
Sarahah’s developers are considering allowing recipients to respond but for now, they encourage users to “say something constructive.” Judging by reports, some folks have a loose interpretation of “constructive.”
— Kyle Anderson (@THEkyle01) August 14, 2017