Sarahah: Our experience with this app

Sarahah, an app that allows one to send messages anonymously, has prompted many to label it a cyberbullying platform. PHOTO| FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Created last year by a Saudi programmer, Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, the aim was to give disgruntled employees a platform on which they could offer their bosses feedback with no fear of retribution.
  • Once you sign up for the app, anyone, even those who haven’t signed up, can send you anonymous messages. All they need is a link to your profile.
  • When I saw numerous tweets of people sharing their Sarahah profiles on Twitter over the last two weeks, it piqued my curiosity.
  • I have been unwell for the last three months, yet someone told me through Sarahah that it was a publicity stunt to get attention.
  • This experience taught me that people reveal the ugliest versions of themselves when they hide behind a mask.
  • I figured that it was an app that our company would benefit from, since it would allow our target audience to give us honest feedback.

Back in primary and secondary school, when an admirer, (or adversary) lacked the courage to openly say what they thought about you, they wrote it on the washroom walls, where you, and the entire school, could read it.

OUTLET FOR DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEES

In there, in private, they would fungua roho, (speak their mind) with abandon, leaving the recipient to figure out who the sender was. Woe unto you if the faceless admirer/adversary, left a shaming or abusive message because you would become the school’s laughing stock. Fast forward to today, there is now a more sophisticated way to do just that: send messages anonymously; the channel is an app called Sarahah, which has been the talk of town lately.

As you probably know, this app was created last year by a Saudi programmer, Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq. His aim was to give disgruntled employees a platform on which they could offer their bosses feedback with no fear of retribution. As it is, he attracted a target audience much wider and more enthusiastic than he had envisioned. The app, which has gained immense popularity among the youth in Kenya in the past month, allows users to say anything to each other, positive or negative, without any censorship, and consequences, because it does not reveal the sender’s identity, arguably making it a potential tool for cyberbullying.

Once you sign up for the app, anyone, even those who haven’t signed up, can send you anonymous messages. All they need is a link to your profile, which they can easily get as long as you have integrated your Sarahah profile with your Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat accounts.

This week, we speak to four young people who talk about their varied experiences with this app. Two deleted the app within days of signing up, while the other two have mostly good things to say about the app.

Jefferson Anyega
Age: 23 years
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet) Internet governance analyst &freelance writer

Jefferson Anyega, 23, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet) Internet governance analyst & freelance writer. PHOTO| MARTIN MUKANGU

Why did you join Sarahah?

I studied Bachelor of Business Information Technology (BBIT) at Multimedia University of Kenya, so anything that has to do with technology intrigues me. When I saw numerous tweets of people sharing their Sarahah profiles on Twitter over the last two weeks, it piqued my curiosity, so I signed up one week ago.

It was interesting to discover that it promised anonymity - I felt that it would be a good platform to know what people really thought of me, so I shared my profile with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

How soon did you start receiving messages?

The following day, probably because I am a shy person who’s not very active on social media. For my social and popular friends however, the responses were instant.

Were the messages beneficial in terms of personal growth like you had hoped?

Most people say that I have a soft personality, and some of my friends have taken advantage of that because I tend to care too much about what people say even though I know I shouldn’t.

I had never taken what they thought seriously until it became the dominating concern from the messages I received. I am learning to stand up for myself.

Most senders have been kind to offer positive criticism save for about three hurtful messages; in one, I was told that I am hypocrite who pretends to be nice.

Men seem to be receiving more positive messages than women - why do you think this so?

Probably because most of the Sarahah users are women, and the platform gives them the mask with which to express their feelings towards a particular guy, something that they cannot do openly because it is largely not socially acceptable. With Sarahah, online behaviour does not imitate offline behaviour.

From your interaction with the app, do you feel it encourages cyber bullying?

Well, it does not reveal the writer’s identity, and does not regulate the messages one receives. Also, you cannot reply to the messages sent, so essentially, you cannot defend yourself or hit back. I don’t intend to delete the app though, I am still curious to read what people have to say about me, and I have a lot to say to others as well.

Jedidah Ondigi
Age: 22
Law Student, Kabarak University

Jedidah Ondigi, 22, Law Student, Kabarak. PHOTO| ROBERT NGUGI

What compelled you to join Sarahah?

When I saw people post feedback they had received through their Sarahah profiles on Instagram three weeks ago, I was curious to find out what kind of feedback I would receive.

At first however, I was hesitant to sign up because I didn’t see why I should give an unnamed person a chance to have an opinion about on me. Eventually, my curiosity won the day. It turned out to be a big mistake!

Why is that?

I am a freelance model – I hold titles such as Miss campuses Nakuru 2015, Miss Culture Nakuru Region 2015/2016 and runners-up, Miss Red Cross Nakuru 2016. Due to this, I knew that I would have a few haters and critics, so I expected a few negative messages. I however thought that the criticism would be of help, but I ended up giving myself away to people whose aim was to tear me down in the worst way possible.

I have received messages that I didn’t think that even my worst enemies could compose. For instance, I have been unwell for the last three months, yet someone told me through Sarahah that it was a publicity stunt to get attention. That hurt more than the body-shaming and sexual harassment messages that I received. By the time I deleted the app three days after signing up, I had more than 20 unread messages which I decided not to read. I am an open person who says it as it is openly and was hoping that those who can’t confront me openly would offer positive criticism through this app. I was wrong. Very wrong.

What advice do you have for those contemplating signing up?

Bear in mind that reporting cases of bullying would be pointless because by signing up and accepting to the app’s terms and conditions, you are agreeing to whatever may come your way. Avoid it. This app is not suitable for anyone. I have heard some argue that teenagers are more vulnerable in this case, but the hate messages one is likely to be subjected can get to anyone, irrespective of age. Even those who think that they have a thick skin can get hurt - I got hurt, even though I am not easily shaken. This platform has given cyber bullies a chance to spew venom.

Name: Cecilia Akinyi
Age: 22 years
Student at Kenyatta University studying education

Cecilia Akinyi, 22, Student at Kenyatta University studying education. PHOTO| CHRIS OMOLLO

Did you sign up to Sarahah out of peer pressure?

No. I joined Sarahah during the election week. It was a good distraction from the politics on TV. When I signed up, I shared my profile with friends via Whatsapp and on my Facebook timeline. The messages started trickling in instantly. In the first few hours, it was fun, but as days went by, I started getting intrusive questions and mean comments, so I deleted the app.

This experience taught me that people reveal the ugliest versions of themselves when they hide behind a mask. Sarahah is doing more harm than good because it is giving people an anonymous platform to be nasty to others. It would have been a helpful feature had it been an interactive channel, not a one-way outlet.

It is also not a good app because it seems as if most of the users are there to seek validation and reassurance from strangers.

Why care what a stranger thinks of you? The fact is that Sarahah is a breeding ground for cyberbullies and cowards. I wouldn’t encourage anybody to sign up because there is more hatred than love being spread there. It is not worth having your self-esteem trampled by faceless people. If you choose to join, go in aware of the risks involved.

Were some of the messages you received helpful in any way?

I received both positive and negative messages, but I cannot say that any of them helped me to discover anything new about myself. If anything, the mean messages left me sad. Instead of focusing on constructive messages, some people chose to hate on me.


Name: Gabriel Dinda
Age: 24 Years
CEO, Writers Guild Kenya

Gabriel Dinda, CEO Writers Guild Kenya August 21, 2017. PHOTO| DENNIS ONSONGO

What was your first impression of the app when you discovered it?

When I discovered Sarahah through Facebook three weeks ago, I was greatly impressed with the fact that people could leave messages anonymously. I figured that it was an app that our company would benefit from, since it would allow our target audience to give us honest feedback. We joined the bandwagon on August 9. So far, we have received 26 messages and none of the messages is insulting or directed to an individual. When we shared our Sarahah link to our social media platforms, we requested people to share both good and bad experiences. It is interesting to get some messages which couldn’t be shared with us through a face-to-face conversation.

I would encourage all entrepreneurs to sign up and use the app to develop a better relationship with their clients. If working on an individual brand, you might consider creating a personal account.

Why create a company account instead of a personal account? Aren’t you curious about what people think about you?

Initially, I had thought of creating a personal account too but decided not to after seeing the kind of messages that most of my friends were receiving. Most of them lacked seriousness and were quite intrusive, for instance, “Are you dating?” “Do you have a child?” I also know several people who have been bullied through the app. With a hidden identity, people have the potential to be mean. If your experience with the app has been negative, just close it down.

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