What You Don’t Know About Summer’s #1 App

Jul 28, 2017

Sarahah. Unless you speak Arabic, this word is pretty much obscure to you. Well, chances are your child recognizes it! It’s the name of an app created by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq and it has shot to popularity over the past week to surpass well-known apps like Facebook and Snapchat at #1 in the Google Play store (and #2 on iTunes).

Popularity of this app has been spreading through the Arabic speaking world and in June, landed in Canada. In just a few short weeks, it rose to dominance in the U.S. too. So, what is Sarahah and why should you get familiar with it immediately?

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Beware of Anonymous Messaging

Sarahah claims that its app is designed to get honest feedback from coworkers and friends, citing self-improvement and better communication among acquaintances. The goal, as stated on their website, says, “Sarahah helps you in discovering your strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner.” This makes the app sound more like an employer-employee communication tool, which could effectively aid in improving workers aspiring for constructive criticism. The word Sarahah even means “frankness” or “honesty”.

In reality though, this app is quickly becoming loaded with anonymous hateful comments and cyberbullying messages. After all, who would have thought that asking people for their unbridled and anonymous thoughts could backfire?

While it’s true that responsibility is in the hands of the user, it seems presumptuous that this app – rated for teens on Google Play– is meant to rely on the good nature of social media users. The same issues that have plagued other popular teen apps like Yik Yak and Whisper are now evident on Sarahah – and in an astonishingly short period of time since it first launched in the U.S.

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What Parents Need to Know About Sarahah

It's Pretty Non-Descript.

The app icon looks inconspicuous and doesn’t fully bely the true nature of the app. The logo is a plain white envelope, which says that it’s a messaging service, but it’s also generic enough that it won’t raise red flags with parents who may see it on their child’s phone.

It's Designed That Way on Purpose.

The goal of Sarahah is share anonymous message with coworkers, friends and family members. What started out as a tool for corporate feedback has now progressed to an unprotected space where anyone can say their darkest thoughts about you without consequence or reprisal.

It's Meant to be Shared on Instagram and Snapchat.

Users are encouraged to share a link to their Sarahah profile on their social media profiles. Since Instagram and Snapchat now both allow links to be added into their Stories feature, that’s how most teens are sharing their profiles.

As Mashable reports, “Snapchat launched its update on July 5. Three days later, Sarahah broke into the App Store's top 1,500 apps for the first time, according to analytics from Sensor Tower. Four days later, it jumped to the #104 spot; two days after that, it was #17; and then, three days later, it reached #1, beating Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and every other major social network in just a matter of days.

Moderation is Absent.

The point of this app is anonymity, so being able to moderate messages from unknown users is difficult and mostly absent, at least for right now. While you can flag messages, the sender is not revealed, so there is nothing stopping them from continuing to send anonymous messages from their account or creating new accounts to send hateful comments.

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I should note that Sarahah does state in their Terms of Service that “all users should refrain from insult and abuse.” However, there seems to be more emphasis put on the legal denial the app itself has stating, “All communicated content on the website is the responsibility of their owners and Sarahah is not responsible for its content or any damage that could result from this content or the use of any of the site’s services.”

The Reviews are Widely Negative.

In the Google Play store alone, it has 5,387 1-star reviews – which accounts for almost 40% of the total number of reviews. Many of these reviews are about the unstable nature of the app, glitches and bugs that give users a hard time logging in. There is also a long list of reviews that specifically call out the cyberbullying issue firsthand.

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“My 13-year-old sister uses this and she got a death threat aimed at our 2-year-old brother.” – Taylor G.
“Hi yeah your app is gonna be responsible for a high rate of suicides… I have friends getting death threats.” -Giselle C.
“Just another hate app but the devs already know that… delete.” -Dd

The Ratings are Confusing.

One look at Sarahah in Google Play rates it for Teens. But iTunes has a rating stating, “You must be at least 17 years old to download this application.” However, there is no age verification to sign up and a specific age is not mentioned in its Terms of Service.

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There’s no doubt that Sarahah’s rise to popularity equals success – at least for the near future. The bigger question is: can Sarahah sustain its popularity?

As teens would say, there’s lots of “drama” around this app – and they’re right. Everyone is talking about the meteoric rise to app store fame and no doubt tech giants are taking notice of their strategy and pitfalls.

But, we’ve also seen how fickle teens can be. What’s “hot” one day is no longer the next day and that applies to apps too. While teens may be the first to adopt an anonymous messaging app like Sarahah, there is no guarantee their attention won’t fizzle out when the next “it” thing comes around.

The real issue that Sarahah is facing is the explosion of cyberbullying that’s surrounded its popularity.

It’s already making national headlines and parents, kids – and pretty soon school officials – will be keeping an eye out for Sarahah-related incidents in the weeks to come for the back to school season. While there is no way to track the anonymous commenters on Sarahah at this time, using parental control software can help give your family peace of mind around your child’s digital use.