Sarahah, a popular app that gives “honest comments” to friends, has been removed from Google and Apple’s online stores. Critics argue that anonymized messages encouraged cyberbullying.
When her 13-year-old daughter received many offensive messages, including an invitation to commit suicide, Katrina Collins was shocked. The mother started an online petition on the Change.org website requesting that Sarahah be removed because she encouraged intimidation and self-harm. In two months, she has collected more than 465,000 signatures.
The application, which has nearly 300 million users worldwide and whose name means “honesty” in Arabic, invites its users to leave constructive comments. Katrina’s daughter was not a user. One of her friends downloaded it and relayed what was being said about her online.
Google initially responded to the petition claiming that it was still working closely with the developers of all applications to ensure a “good experience for users”. A few days later, last Wednesday, Sarahah was no longer available on the Google Store.
For its part, Apple did not comment, but also removed the application from its online store.
Katrina Collins welcomed this decision. She offered the win to victims of cyberbullying, including Amy “Dolly” Everett, a 14-year-old Australian who took her life in January after being bullied on the Internet. “This win is for Amy” Dolly “Everett. […] It’s for my daughter who was told to kill herself via Sarahah. It’s for everyone who has reached out and shared their stories of pain, loss and courage, “she wrote.
An “unhappy” decision , says Sarahah
Sarahah founder Zain-Alabdin Tawfiq said he was “very optimistic about reaching a favorable deal” with Google and Apple, saying it was an “unfortunate” decision.
In an interview with the BBC, the founder of Sarahah said that their artificial intelligence system used to block hate messages was still improving. He added that the remarks that Katrina Collins’ daughter received should not be able to escape this security barrier.
“As soon as we received this petition, we tried to pass [this kind of messages] through Sarahah, and they were blocked,” he says, adding that this app was intended for 17-year-olds and more.
The mother responded to the English media that these hateful messages had “undeniably been sent”, referring to the screenshots she took. “There is no filter at all that blocked them, they were all sent.”
The Child Protection Center in Winnipeg has already invited parents to talk to their children about the harm Sarahah can cause.