Sarahah is the latest anonymous messaging platform. It’s mission? To allow strangers to “rate” each other. But what’s the appeal for users, and just how healthy is it?
There’s a scene in the 1995 cult film, Empire Records, where the young record store employees throw a fake funeral for a woman named Deb, because she lives with depression and suicidal thoughts. In the scene, Deb lays stretched out on a table draped in silk, head propped on a small pillow, candles surrounding her “coffin.”
“We’re gathered here today to pay our last respects to Deborah,” says Liv Tyler’s character. “She left us and never said why, but I’m really going to miss her, and I wish that I could have known her a little bit better.”
A fan of the scene, 27-year-old Andrea says: “They say everything they like about her. Things they wouldn’t communicate in their day-to-day life. They’re honest and they say everything they love about her. I want that kind of feedback. Fearless feedback!”
In pursuit of collecting this type of “fearless feedback” for herself, Andrea downloaded Sarahah earlier this summer.
Sarahah is the latest iteration of that specific vein of app which reemerges fairly cyclically, an “ask me anything” platform that runs on anonymous messages sent between online “friends.” Sarahah rocketed to the top of the App Store in late July with the stated goal of helping you discover “your strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner.”
In a recent report for CNN Tech, Julia Carpenter talks about the history of the platforms that have preceded Sarahah. Whereas precursors to Sarahah have been lampooned for their potential to encourage cyber bullying, as well as privacy breaches, Sarahah has successfully avoided any negative blowback (at least so far).
“There’s something sort of fascinating about having strangers tell you compliments and trying to figure out who it is,” says MacKenzie, 21. “Sometimes the fact that the random stranger on the internet, or a Twitter follower, would have something positive to say about you is kind of uplifting, and it really feeds your ego.”
So far, both Andrea and MacKenzie have had positive experiences on the app. “I specifically requested kind comments,” says Andrea. “The meanest thing I received was someone who said, ‘As an anxious person it doesn’t seem very wise of you to open yourself up to the possibility of online bullying using this.’ Which—they’re not wrong.”
Melissa Moreno is a Talkspace Crisis Intervention Expert and licensed clinical social worker. As of yet, she says neither Sarahah, nor any of its precursors and contemporaries, have arisen in her work as a therapist.
“While there is value in honest feedback being offered in a private manner, there are many variables that influence an individual’s answers,” says Moreno. “Some find value in such feedback and it can be a helpful means to exploring different areas and ways to make changes and improvements.
“While others can find it anxiety-inducing or troublesome because they may not agree with the results or feel judged by the answers received.”
In early August, Sarahah boasted on Twitter that they’d received more than a quarter billion visitors and more than one billion page views, demonstrating a clear and consistent appetite for the anonymous feedback the app delivers.
But the availability of such platforms is contingent on the interests of the people who create them—how can we be more proactive about sourcing the personalized feedback we crave on our own terms?
“I do find myself seeking feedback online in ways that sometimes may be unhealthy,” says Andrea. “I need to talk to people about why I hate myself or my mental illness and have them validate those experiences … I think sometimes, I feel dependent on feedback from my online friends. And that’s not good. And I do think a lot about how I would feel about myself, if online feedback was not kind of a crucial part of my life.”
Moreno says that feedback is a “form of connection and validation from others that we all strive to obtain.” The trick is discovering ways to achieve this feedback more proactively, in ways that suit us as individuals, and IRL.
“Learning ways to have healthy connections to others and validate our own self-worth can be steps towards fulfilling these desires,” says Moreno.
“Social media gives a us sense of connection with very limited human connection since the computer is the medium which connects us. It can give us a false sense of being ‘friends’ or connected to others.”
Last names of sources have been omitted to preserve their privacy.
Words: Kaylen RalphPhoto: GIPHY