Have you noticed a lot of your friends posting images on Facebook or Twitter or what have you consisting of friendly-looking blue-green backgrounds, giant speech bubbles, and sometimes indecipherable text lately? Me too. Each of these images also features a little envelope with the words “Sarahaha.com” in the lower left-hand corner — which of course led me to think, “What is Sarahaha? How does it work? Do I need it? SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS TO ME.”
I did not actually ask anyone to explain it to me, but that’s what’s been running through my head every time I’ve seen one of those images for the past week or so.
So I decided to look into it — and since I am apparently not the only person who is totally baffled by this social media fad (I’m old — have patience with me), I figured I’d share the fruits of my labor with you, Gentle Readers. Sarahah, you see, isn’t quite a social network; it’s a messaging app. Its integration with existing social networks is what’s making it seem like a new system entirely — but you don’t actually have to share it on social media at all if you don’t want to.
Here are the basics:
What Is Sarahah?
It’s an anonymous messaging app somewhat akin to Formspring.me, Yik Yak, Ask.fm, and Secret. According to the Financial Times, Sarahah, which means “honesty” or “candor” in Arabic, was originally launched as a website — not a mobile app — in 2016; the developer, Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, intended it to bea way for employees to give feedback anonymously to their managers (kind of like Rate My Professors for bosses). Tawfiq only recently created an app for the system and broadened its scope to the general public (Android Authority puts its launch date at June 13) — and it’s shot to the top of the charts in both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store as a result.
How Does It Work?
After you sign up, you’ll get a personalized link people can use to leave you anonymous messages. You can either give this link directly to your friends or post it somewhere online — social media profiles seem to be a popular pick — and then… you just wait. If people choose to send you messages, they’ll be anonymous; you’ll have no way of knowing who sent you what. Worth noting, though, is the fact that Sarahah’s FAQ says it “won’t disclose the identity of the logged-in senders to users except with their consent.”
If someone gives you their link, you can send anonymous messages yourself. You can also now search for users by name, and although right now, Sarahah messages aren’t a two-way conversation — recipients currently can’t reply to senders — you can favorite messages you like by tapping a heart next to it, much the same way you like or favorite posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also, according to the Sarahah FAQ, the developers are “studying this option” — so it might be possible to reply sometime in the future.
Why Is It Suddenly, Uh, Everywhere?
It all has to do with a recent Snapchat update. At the beginning of July, Snap Inc. announced that users of Snapchat would finally — finally — be able to embed links within Snaps. According to Select All, NY Mag’s tech site, teens subsequently began including their Sarahah links in their Snaps, which resulted in the app spreading like proverbial wildfire.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of The App?
From what I’ve seen on my Facebook timeline from friends sharing the messages they’ve received, the biggest pro is getting surprised on a regular basis by super nice, supportive messages from people you care about. I can see how that would be a draw; warm-fuzzies are delightful, and all the mor eso when you’re not expecting them.
The biggest con, meanwhile, is pretty much the exact opposite: Anonymous platforms lend themselves far too well to cyberbullying. As Claire Downs wrote at Vice Motherboard:
Unfortunately, subjecting ourselves to nameless commenters via technology is not new, and we've seen this scenario play out dozens of times in the last 15 years. An app or site emerges, innocently hoping that in anonymity we'll be free to gush compliments to each other. Instead, humans are awful, hate speech and cyberbullying is unleashed, and bad things happen.
Which is exactly what’s happened to previous apps and services allowing people to comment anonymously on other people, Downs noted — often resulting in many either dramatically changing their user policies or shutting down entirely.
For what it’s worth, most of the folks I know who are using Sarahah — or at least, the folks I know who are using it and posting about it on their other social feeds — seem mostly to be encountering the pros, rather than the cons. Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on who you give your Sarahah link to; you can also block senders. And if you decide you want to delete Sarahah all together, here's how to do that.