Freedom of speech in written texts? Totally anonymous? No fear of being identified and penalized? Whoa, that’s what GenY was waiting for! And youngsters have been, going for it I mean, by the drove!
If you are still wondering what I am talking about, it’s the new app Sarahah, that’s got everyone’s attention. The brainchild of a Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, its original purpose was to provide a platform to people to offer honest but anonymous feedback in the workplace without the fear of retribution. Zain soon realized the potential for it in personal use and so opened a new section in the website for personal feedback from friends. This feature became very popular in the Middle East and Africa, which led to its introduction in the western countries as the Sarahah App.
How does it work?
All you have to do is download it and link it to your social media accounts- SnapChat, Facebook or Instagram and share the link you receive with friends or public; and voila, you are ready to tell anyone- anonymously- exactly what you think of them, their work, their attitude, their past deeds or whatever it is about them that pleases or irks you.
Quick facts on Sarahah:
- It is available for download on PlayStore and iStore
- It is anonymous so just about ANYONE can send a message
- Spam Alert: Fake sites like Sarahah Spyer and Sarahah exposed are sending spam messages to users to check sender’s name on their sites
- There is a minimum age criteria though- the app is for people over 17. But a large number of teens are on it so the age criteria has obviously not played a deterrent.
So now my Facebook page is flooded with sweet comments that people have received via Sarahah (The comments are not visible to others unless users choose to share) and reciprocal outpour of love and guesses on who the sender might be. Sometimes they guess it right, sometimes they do not. What concerns cyber security experts like me (yeah, we like people to use their devices and the net with their eyes open) is that the anonymity may embolden some malicious users to reveal “honest” feelings- and so be abusive, mean, acerbic and untruthful. Or to use the app to insult or demean someone they do not like. How will the receivers handle it then?
What does this mean for parents & kids in India?
According to McAfee’s “Teen Tween Technology 2015” study in India, 43% of the children active on social media claim to have witnessed cruel behaviour on social networks, while 52% of the children indicated that they have bullied people over social media themselves. And this when there was no Sarahah app around! We learn two things from here, children are being bullied and simultaneously children could be playing accomplice to cyberbullying by being the perpetrators or witnesses.
Such apps that allow people to “speak their mind” have the potential to turn into breeding grounds for cyberbullying and according to reports, it has started happening, with some users allegedly receiving hate mails and death threats!
What parents need to understand?
- Watch for signals: If a child faces cyberbullying, there could be behavioral changes like depression, drop in academic performance, marked disinterest in everything. Watch out for these signs in your teen. Also, as the McAfee study suggested, kids could be not just be on the receiving end but initiating it also. This is where a good open relationship with kids about cyber etiquettes is critical from an early age.
- Better to be safe: Monitoring underage kid’s activities online through parental control app is critical at points in time like these. Until kids gain maturity to identify on their own, guidance from parents is essential just like how you would help cross the street. If you feel uncomfortable or disturbed by any message, its recommended to take screen shots and uninstall the app
- Communicate: What goes online stays online and may have future consequences. It’s important to empower children early until they can judge what can harm them. That said we also need to highlight that participating in such acts can have consequences and if seen, should be reported.
It is difficult to predict whether the popularity of the app will gain steam or lose sheen in the coming months. But what we can say for certain is if you and your kids stay aware and updated, you will enjoy your virtual experience.
Stay safe folks!