Listen up, fellow olds. While you’re still figuring out whether it’s acceptable for a 30-year-old to have a Snapchat account, teenagers around the world have locked onto a new messaging service, one that allows them to contact each other anonymously. And it’s reigned ruthlessly as the No. 1 free download in the App Store for 22 days straight.
Sarahah, a new messaging app that can be easily linked to Snapchat, has users downloading it with such ferocity that the app has been the No. 1 App Store download every day since July 18. This is especially interesting when you consider the average rating is less than impressive with a meager 2 out of 5 stars based on 2,220 ratings.
The gist is simple: Users can send and receive “constructive messages” or anonymous messages. The popularity picked up speed, however, with the added layer of Snapchat and Instagram, as users both share links to their Sarahah page (to prompt people to send them messages) or share screenshots of messages they’ve received.
In many ways, Sarahah appears like a slightly sleeker Yik Yak (RIP) or a mobilized version of the College Anonymous Confession Board (also RIP). It’s ASKfm with a facelift, and it’s worth pointing out that none of these cultural phenomenon services maintained their initial surge in popularity very long after hitting the internet. Though Sarahah has been at the top for nearly a month, its eventual downfall seems inevitable.
Computer scientists and attorneys alike have cautioned the public that an app like Sarahah is bound to devolve into hateful messaging sooner or later; they point to apps like Whisper and Secret as examples of the same bright promise gone awry. Of course, all of us, especially teenagers, want to believe that our peers will divulge secret crushes and dress us in a flurry of compliments if given the chance to say these things without consequence. The thing is, positive feedback is social currency; it doesn’t really do the user any good to compliment or sexually proposition someone without the promise of a possible conversation. Our internal urge to inflict damage without any consequence is, generally speaking, just as powerful as our urge to act empathetically.
So, does the rapid-fire rise of Sarahah speak to the perseverance of human optimism? Surely millions of users aren’t downloading the anonymous messaging app hoping they’ll get to sort through a bunch of messages calling them an idiot. We want to be loved, but we know loving expressions are often difficult to make. Can Sarahah’s many, many users really be blamed for their naïveté?
Sarahah’s creator, Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, says he named the app after the Arabic word of “honesty,” and that he developed it in order to encourage honest feedback among coworkers, bosses, and employees. Honesty, according to Tawfiq, is a noble enough goal that keeping people accountable to their commentary isn’t as important as allowing the “truth” to come bubbling up via the app’s messages.
The article was originally published on July 24, 2017.