There's always a song of the summer, and it should be no surprise that there are apps of the summer - one that becomes hugely popular as soon as the temperatures warm up and kids are out of school. This year, the front runner for app of the summer is Sarahah, an anonymous messaging app that originated in Saudi Arabia. But parents and kids have reason to be wary. Here's what parents need to know about the Sarahah messaging app.
* The free app first began in Arabic in February and debuted in English on June 13. Since then, it has become hugely popular in the past six weeks thanks in large part of teenagers, according to this Fortune article.
* This morning, it's at the top of the iTunes Charts in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.
* It is a social network that lets you send and receive messages anonymously. It is similarly to the now-defunct Yik Yak, another anonymous messaging app.
* The developers created it so that employees to give their bosses honest feedback, believing that the only way to do was with their identities protected, according to this Mashable article. In fact, "sarahah" means "frankly" in Arabic, according to Google Translate.
* The app's description in the App Store reads: "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.”
* People make comments, but it's not possible to reply to them. The Sarahah website acknowledges the inability to respond to messages, saying "You can't respond to messages now. We are studying this option." It is also possible to leave messages without an account.
* Anonymous apps often bring out the worst in users who feel they can say anything they wish with zero accountability.
As online safety expert Denise DeRosa told me in this interview, "Anonymous apps draw the worst behavior from people, as well as the worst people. If you’re someone who wants to do harm, where are you going to go? Where you do so anonymously. I prefer for my kids to stay away from that. It’s inviting problems. Problems are baked into the product."
* "A breeding ground for hate" is how some have described Sarahah, and this post on Heavy.com details some of the hate speech and reference to lynchings reported by reviewers and users.
* It is a ripe environment for cyberbullying and nasty behavior. "[P]eople use this as a way to tear down others & to make other people feel bad about themselves," said one review left yesterday.
* The Sarahah website is meager with the shortest and least helpful Terms & Conditions I've ever seen for an app and no specification of an age requirement for users. In the sparse FAQ section of the site, it states, "Sarahah won't disclose the identity of the logged-in senders to users except with their consent."
* There is no way to report inappropriate content or threats to those behind the app. The website offers only an email address for "non-support requests."
* The app is very international. In February, this BBC article said that Sarahah garnered more than 270 million views and 20 million users in just a few weeks and at the time had 2.5 million users in Egypt, 1.7 million in Tunisia, 1.2 in Saudi Arabia, and substantial followings in Syria and Kuwait. That was almost six months ago and before it was English. It is now receiving 20 million views per day, according to Mashable.
* Users are posting links to the Sarahah account to their Instagram Stories and via Snapchat, thanks to a new update there earlier this month allowing links on stories. That update accelerated the app's spread among English-speaking teenagers, as Inverse.com details here. They also post screen shots of their Sarahah feedback.
* Sarahah users don't seem to love the app itself, rating it only 2 stars in the App Store and reviewers note problems with how it functions, including say it is slow and glitchy and has caused problems with their phone.
* It may be a flash in the pan. Several of the articles cited above cast doubt on whether Sarahah has staying power, given other anonymous apps like Yik Yak that have gone by the wayside. That seems likely to me given the negative feedback about the problems with the function of the app.
Given the problems as a breeding ground for hate speech, cyberbullying, and meanness, I have my fingers crossed that their predictions are correct and that Sarahah goes away faster than a one-hit wonder.
Talk with your kids about what value they give anonymous feedback. Discuss how they decide to give weight to individual's opinions. Everyone wants to hear good things about themselves. Ask them about what she of the most meaningful praise they have receive is, how that came about, and whether it was via an app. (I'm willing to bet it wasn't.)
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