The internet is a free space, where anyone can speak their mind, but it is also a platform that allows many to hide behind a desk. Anonymity not only offers entertainment and an escape from reality, but it also gives people a license to say and do things online most wouldn’t do in real life.
It is a fact well-known that trolls hiding behind fake IDs are always on the prowl to attack people online.
The latest app that specializes in this nameless messaging is Sararah, an anonymous messaging app that’s taken social media by storm. Like its predecessors Ask.fm and Sayat.me, the app enables one to send messages to anyone who has the link to their profile, without the person knowing who sent the message. Since the app came out in February 2016, the number of users has almost reached 300 million. And even though the purpose of the app, as per its creators, was to encourage constructive criticism online, there also seems to be a lot of hate spreading through it.
In the past, this hatred has had drastic consequences with people even taking their own lives at times. In 2013, when Ask.fm, another anonymous app became insanely popular, it was claimed that messages received by some teenagers were partly responsible for pushing them to commit suicide
And even though instances of app use leading to suicides is yet to be reported in the case of Sarahah, the truth is, that like other anonymous apps, Sarahah hasn’t exactly been a joy ride for all its users, with many users having also received abusive, hateful and ‘creepy’ messages.
Kaavya Pillai (24), who works as a journalist in Mumbai is a case in point. Pillai joined Sarahah because it sounded exciting and felt that everybody needed some validation once in awhile. She says that while she mostly received positive messages from people, she also faced her share of harassment. “I was harassed on Sarahah by one specific person, besides which I got a couple of sexual posts which were pretty creepy. My response to the unpleasant ones was generally just humour. The sexual ones is disgust and more humour because that’s how I cope”.
Kaavya is not alone when it comes to receiving lewd posts on the app. Wamika Singh (23), who works as a conceptualizer in Delhi has also received a message that made her feel uncomfortable. “I did get a creepy message where someone wrote that they wanted to kiss me and maybe more,” she says. However, she does not use the app anymore. “See, Sarahah is like a reality show winner. Got fame very fast, started trending but then it loses its charm very soon. How long are you going to be pleased with anonymous messages?”
For Sahiba Khan (24), a business reporter, it was her religious identity that became fodder for online venom with someone accusing her of being an ‘orthodox Muslim’. Her reaction to this accusation was to share the negative message because she says, she isn’t afraid of her haters.
People from the LGBTQ+ community have also been receivers of a lot of hate on anonymous apps like Sarahah. Neeraj Mehra (23) who lives in Delhi has also received hateful messages on the app for identifying as a queer person. He says, “Many of them were body shaming me, there were particular messages related to anal sex (in Hindi) and some related to me being out and having opinions.”
Many like Mehra say they weren’t personally affected by the messages and chose to leave the app because they got bored of it. A lot of concerns still remain when it comes to the mental health of teenagers -a demographic that forms a large portion of internet users around the world and that uses these apps.
Titli Sarkar who has worked at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata and is currently completing her M.Phil in clinical psychology, talks about how teenagers are addicted to the internet. She says, “Teenagers are mostly impulsive. They are driven by the id (the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest) and there is a tendency to be popular and more socially acceptable among their friend circle, so they easily fall into such apps. And getting addicted to apps like this can lead to depression and anxiety.”
I have never used the app and don’t intend to do so. The idea of sending and receiving anonymous messages doesn’t appeal to me, even just for fun. But what I realized through scrolling on my social media and talking to people who’ve used the app is that each person’s experience is their own. While an app like Sarahah encourages people to send constructive criticism and positive feedback, it is not free from hate. Probably, what we as consumers of the internet, can do is to fight the negativity with love. Maybe we can make sending positive thoughts a trend because the internet is wonderful and should have no place for hate.