Armed and Anonymous


Brooke Johnston, Staff Writer

A familiar ping echoes from across your room. As you abandon the countless math problems sprawled over the page in front of you, something quickens your heartbeat and you shove everything aside to see what someone has to say. Although illuminated by the harsh light of your phone screen, your expression darkens as your eyes are greeted with typed words emitting nothing but contempt.

We are humans, and attached to that label is an overwhelming desire to be loved. Because of this powerful longing for acceptance, people have turned to a variety of apps that allow them to receive anonymous and opinionated messages from others. However minuscule the characters on a phone keyboard may appear, they possess the power to substantially impact a message’s recipient for better or for worse. And unfortunately, it is often for worse.

As with virtually any other aspect of our modernized lives, technology has opened innumerable avenues for people to interact online while publicizing opinions. Close friends, peers, and sometimes even strangers have access to comment on Instagram pictures or Twitter posts. While there is a multitude of opportunities to receive positive feedback from others through the internet, social media outlets pose the risks of cyberbullying, lack of privacy, and dejection felt after coming home to a hurricane of negative messages popping up on your phone. Positive comments are also capable of causing problems; it may not be noticeable at first, but it is easy to become addicted and dependent on constant flattery offered through social media.

Apps such as Sarahah and Tbh are taking the teenage world by storm and are of particular influence in regards to the self-esteem of their consumers. When I noticed Sarahah achieved the number one ranking on the app store last summer, I was absolutely baffled. How could a random software reach the pinnacle of such a large platform almost instantaneously? Curious, I decided to do my research and attempt to understand what new craze the app brought along with it.

Originating in Saudi Arabia and quickly catching on in several other countries, Sarahah is a prime example of an outlet that allows users to leave comments about others. The app store told me that Sarahah allows you to create a profile where your friends can message you and help you discover “your strengths and areas for improvement.” Innocent, right? Wrong. Not only are the messages always anonymous, you are unable to reply to them and the app offers a daunting amount of ways to spread negativity.

Needless to say, there are plenty of easy ways the app can morph into a hub for bullying and the spread of demoralizing comments. Eager teens longing to know what their peers truly think of them share the link to their profile with the world and wait impatiently for validation to come flooding through their feed. Close friends might leave heartwarming remarks, but as every high schooler can testify to, some are bound to veer away from good-natured paths.

Anonymous apps like Sarahah provide generous amounts of power to their users that won’t always be applied virtuously. It is significantly easier to insult someone by carefully selecting offensive phrases and typing them into a phone screen than to physically face another person while putting them down; the task gets even easier when you are able to spew all the negativity you can manage without the victim ever knowing you were responsible. There is nothing stopping a school bully, peer, or even close “friend” from typing an abusive message that leaves the recipient forever wondering who thinks they’re annoying and worthless.

Although Sarahah has left a trail of distrust and dejection in its wake, millions of people continue to actively utilize the service across the world. Many people attempt to shake off any hateful comments they receive and keep the app to read kinder messages, but it is no secret that words cling to the heart long after they are spoken or typed.

In an attempt to satisfy society’s puzzling, unhealthy appetite for anonymous messaging apps with less detrimental methods, a new platform called Tbh emerged. It counterbalances the dangerous freedom given to the users of Sarahah by only allowing people to send pre-written messages while maintaining a private identity. The app allows you to befriend people at your school and answer provided questions about classmates. A typical poll might consist of a statement such as “puts others before themselves” or “is secretly smarter than Einstein” and users are given four different friends to choose from that best fits the description. If you are chosen in a particular survey, you are notified and are able to read an anonymous figure’s friendly opinion of you.

Needless to say, Tbh has drastically limited opportunities for cyberbullying or inappropriate messages to surround the app. Users are permitted to submit poll ideas, but each one is heavily moderated and reviewed if they are to be implemented into the software. Every poll topic has a positive connotation and all of the options are intended to come across as compliments to whoever receives them.

Tbh is a game-changer, and its goal in passing encouraging compliments between students has resolved previous issues attached to the lenient, unmonitored nature of Sarahah. However, the app has proven that it is extremely easy to fall prey to dependence on validation from classmates. Students who have downloaded Tbh might feel a distinct emptiness if no one has voted for them for a few hours, and grow overly reliant on receiving thoughtful compliments in order to feel loved. Kind remarks have the extraordinary ability to turn an unpleasant day on its head, but a fine line exists between the warm twinge of happiness felt near your heart after receiving genuine praise and a separate feeling that sits in your stomach and leaves you craving more flattery. The app also requires that users input their age and the school they attend before creating an account which can violate privacy on multiple levels.

Anonymity behind apps like Sarahah and Tbh has developed into a teenage obsession that can have toxic repercussions. Receiving negative remarks through outlets like these cause students to cling to the words of their unknown messengers and begin to truly believe them. High schoolers tend to subject themselves to others’ opinions, convinced that their self-worth diminishes if their peers fail to recognize it. Just because all of your friends are exchanging messages on a certain anonymous messaging app doesn’t mean it is essential you download it too. Sometimes, it is healthiest to disconnect from the constant surge of judgments surrounding social media and realize the words your peers type into a screen do not define you.