Critics Say Top Free App A 'Breeding Ground For Hate'

The app lets people make anonymous comments regarding users, and reviewers say they believe many people are using the app simply to bully and intimidate others.

Women laugh while looking at phone.

A new app is beating all others in the App Store. But its popularity may be more thanks to its status as a “breeding ground for hate” than anything else, reviewers suggest.

Sarahah, an app designed to allow users to receive and send feedback from work colleagues and friends anonymously has pushed all other apps off the top of the App Store's list of most downloaded, Business Insider reports. The feature, which was designed by Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, a Saudi programmer, is named after the Arabic word for candor, and it was launched in February.

In no more than a month, the app already had 2.5 million users in Egypt, 1.7 million users in Tunisia, and 1.2 million users in Saudi Arabia. But most Americans have never heard of it.

By June, the app finally made it to the App Store, skyrocketing to No. 1 in the store's list of free apps.

Appearing in Arabic, Sarahah is entirely in English once it's downloaded. It works by giving the user the ability to share their username with friends and coworkers so they can send anonymous messages back. Users then can read and favorite messages, but they may not respond to them.

To reviewers, this app could be putting users in danger as critics may take advantage of their anonymity to be a bit harsher than they would in person.

“I don't recommend going on here unless you wish to be bullied,” one reviewer suggested.

“My son signed up for an account and within 24 hrs someone posted a horrible racist comment on his page including saying that he should be lynched,” one person also said. "The site is a breeding ground for hate."

“Parents, don't allow your kids to get this app,” someone else added. “This is an app breeding suicides.”

Despite the bad reviews, this isn't the first time a similar app stirred controversy for how people used it.

In 2015, Yik Yak, a college-focused messaging app, sparked a criminal investigation after racist comments and threats led to suspensions and hate crime charges. By 2017, the app was no longer available.

Whether Sarahah's future will be similar to Yik Yak's or not, it's important to remember that banning such apps won't put an end to bullying and racism. We'll only see an end to these sentiments and actions when we expose their impact. 

After all, the app is popular. Some users believe that it's because few can resist knowing what others truly think of them. So even if Sarahah eventually gets shut down, another will come in its place.

Thumbnail and banner image credit: Reuters/Shirley Feng

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