Since last few days, the anonymous feedback website/app – Sarahah – has taken over the internet. Aimed at providing constructive feedback from friends and family, Sarahah turned out to be a double-edged sword. However, it’s not the first service of its kind. I guess Formspring, which launched in 2009, was one of the earliest ones of this kind followed by ask.fm, sayat.me, Secret, Whisper, and more.
I remember using the Formspring widget on my website’s contact page to gather anonymous tips and feedback, but it was long before internet in India, and abroad, became a cesspool of everyday hate, misogyny, perversion, and bigotry as well as a medium for everyone to be always putting up a show.
While Sarahah means ‘honesty’ in Arabic, there’s an ironical dishonesty in not revealing your name while offering feedback. Most people believe that they’d rather trust feedback from people who aren’t anonymous.
In some ways though, that’s a hard-lined high moral ground to take. Confession to one’s office crush, a feedback to a teacher from a student, or commenting on someone’s fashion sense without offending the person are some good enough use-cases. It’s all fun like that, and gives a few giggles.
As soon as the service got popular, a lot of women shared that they’ve received pervert messages going as far as straight up rape threats.
Any online medium these days makes it rife for abuse, and an anonymous one that quickly becomes a platform for explicit sexual advances and cyber-bullying. Sarahah has a rather cavalier attitude about online abuse with no moderation.
And it’s not just women since a lot of teenagers are very vulnerable and emotionally fragile to be affected by online abuse.
Also, like always, there’s a clear trend of victim-blaming. Several women who complained about bullying were told off to not have signed up if they can’t take ‘comments’.
While the cyberbullying is the worst aspect of the service, the most annoying one is that a lot of users are sharing screenshots of the feedback they receive anonymously on their social channels – in an act of shameless show-off and making their need for validation from strangers very clear.
There’s an obvious anomaly in sharing out anonymous feedback and crowdsource guesses about the identity or expect your friends and followers to rally around you.
The biggest problem with Sarahah, and which will hurt its engagement and stickiness in the long term, is that there’s no action point once you’ve received a message. Unlike Secret, there’s no conversations.
Other can’t see messages you get, so there can’t be a public discussion and neither can you reply privately to the anonymous person who’s sent you a message to explain your side of things.
P.S. While I’m not a fan, I also took the bait and signed up. Find me on baxiabhishek.sarahah.com.