Teens love this anonymous messaging app but are they prepared for the cyberbullying? Check out what one of India’s most respected counsellors and parenting experts has to say about the Sarahah app
By Sahana Charan
It is the newest app that teenagers are talking about. With over 10 million downloads, Sarahah has become a craze worldwide. A messaging platform, it allows you to give ‘honest feedback’ under the shroud of anonymity. Sounds like a recipe for trouble? It could be, especially if the feedback starts becoming nasty and vengeful.
It is especially popular with teens as it can be linked to their Snapchat account. They feel it is a lot of fun. “It’s all fun and friendly criticism, but many of my women friends receive secret proposals through Sarahah. It’s harmless stuff but there is scope for misuse,” says Rohith, an engineering student.
Here we give you pointers on why your teens should stay away from the app. Arundhati Swamy, Head - Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle and former president, Chennai Counselor's Foundation also gives essential advice on the negative impact on teens and what parents can do to counter it.
It is quite simple. Sarahah works on both Android and iOS platforms, and can be downloaded for free. You have to create an account with a login ID and password. Then you share your link to friends on any of the online social network platforms. If you only want to send messages, you do not even have to login. There are blocking and filtering features in the app which allows you to block messages you do not want to receive.
Sarahah in Arabic means ‘honesty.’ The brainchild of Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, it was initially developed as a website to receive feedback at the workplace. The app version was launched only two months ago and is already among the top downloads on Google Play and App store.
Here are examples of the messages being sent --
“You need a haircut.”
“Fix your teeth”
“Why do you always get drunk and make a scene”
“Life is too short, smile till you still have teeth”
1. It is one-way communication -- Once you have shared the link and start receiving messages, there is no way to respond to the messages. This can be encouraging for trolls to harass unsuspecting people. Moreover, anyone who knows your Sarahah profile link will be able to send anonymous messages. There is also a search bar to check who is registered with Sarahah.
2. Tool for bullying -- “It is quite a popular app and probably created with the intent of spreading positivity with constructive feedback. But such an app loses its essence when people start pouring in their frustrations on to others online. Teens are using this app to rate each other and provide feedback on everything from physical appearance to financial background. As the feedback is anonymous, teens are confused and puzzled as who may be thinking negative about them,” says Aparna Rao, mother to a teenaged girl.
3. Anonymity issue -- You will not know who is sending you the messages, be it good or bad. In fact, those who want to just send messages, need not register online or login. This kind of anonymity might encourage trolls to unleash their hatred on unsuspecting teens. “A social website that claims to help self-development must have effective checks and balances to ensure emotional safety for its users. A feature such as anonymity can prove to be counter-productive to their goals and claims and smacks of irresponsible management,” says Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and parenting expert.
4. Hacker’s paradise -- Both parents and users have security concerns and feel that there may be issues with the privacy policies, considering that the app is relatively new and still being developed. What if some hackers post your messages sent to friends, online and reveal your identity? Data being leaked online is not a new thing and could happen with this app too.
5. Dubious websites - The Sarahah craze is breeding another problem. Everyone wants to know who has sent them the messages, good or bad. So now there are websites called sarahahexposed.com and Sarahah Spyer that claim that they can tell you who the sender is. Don’t fall for them because their authenticity is doubtful. They lead you to a survey but there is no way of finding out the identity of the sender.
Also see our article on the Blue Whale game and how to keep teens away from dangerous online behaviour:
“Teens that depend upon feedback from all and sundry are already at a low threshold for negative peer influence. It is near impossible to completely control or discourage teens from using sites that are unhealthy for their sagging self-esteem,” says Arundhati.
But this is also a period of opportunity – to explore (safely) and discover interests, information, relationships and possibilities. They require optimism and the support of caring adults and friends during these years, not the negative, harsh, insensitive and irrational thoughts of people who don’t play a significant role in their lives.
They need people who help them build on their strengths, not frivolous advice and comments that undermine or destroy their self-worth; least of all, bullying and heavy put-downs. Social media apps are known to be hunting ground for cyber bullies, for they offer easy access to victims.
This only underscores the importance of prevention through responsible parenting – equipping children with emotional skills such as self-awareness, ability to understand their own feelings and feelings of others as well, to manage their emotions and use self-control, to delay gratification and to be resilient to life’s difficulties.
Engage children with discussions about trends, fads and risky behaviours, to help them spot and steer clear of potential harm.
Check out this article on apps that allow you to control your children's online activities:
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