A popular app that lets children post anonymous comments has been removed from Apple and Google stores.
Critics claim the chat app dubbed ‘Sarahah’ – meaning ‘honesty’ in Arabic – encourages bullying among young people.
Its founder claims that it is designed to provide ‘constructive comments’, but reviews on the both app stores suggest it is being misused by trolls.
A petition supported by 470,000 people called for Apple and Google to remove the app, describing it as ‘a breeding ground for hate’.
The app – called ‘Sarahah’ – meaning ‘honesty’ in Arabic lets users comment anonymously to their friends on social media. It has been dropped by Apple and Google following an online petition that garnered nearly half a million signatures
The app is the creation of developer Zain Alabdin Tawfiq from Saudi Arabia.
It launched last year and became an instant success with more than 300 million users.
It topped Apple’s App Store in more than 30 countries in July.
Katrina Collins started a petition against the app when she saw abusive messages about her 13-year-old daughter.
The petition from the Australian mother has since been backed by nearly half a million others.
She wrote on the petition: ‘My daughter and I have been shattered by this app, and tragically another teenager, in the UK, was found hanged early in 2017 after allegedly being bullied on a similar app called Sayat.Me, which was shut down in May.
‘Both the App Store and Google Play have policies against apps that facilitate bullying, harassment or self harm.
‘Why then is Sarahah still available on these platforms?’
Ms Collins told BBC Trending: ‘If it’s happening to my daughter, it’s happening to a hell of a lot of other kids out there as well.’
Similar apps have existed in the past and encountered the same difficulties.
They experience a meteoric rise in popularity before bullying and trolling leads to a public push against the app.
Numerous young people fall victim to people hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.
Sayat.Me was a popular app early in 2017 which also allowed for anonymous messages to be sent between users.
It was shut down by its owners following the death of George Hessay, a 15-year-old boy from the UK, who tragically took his own life.
Katrina Collins started a petition against the app when she saw abusive messages about her 13-year-old daughter (pictured). The petition from the Australian mother has since been backed by nearly half a million others
Designed to let users send and receive honest feedback it is meant to help people discover their strengths and weaknesses but has been misused by trolls to send vile and abusive messages
The Secret app shut down after criticism in 2015, and Ask.fm was linked to several teen suicides in 2013.
Google has released a statement following the removal of Sarahah from its store.
It said: ‘While we don’t comment on specific apps, our Google Play policies are designed to provide a great experience for users.
‘We always do our best to work closely with developers to ensure they’re in compliance with our policies.’
Similar apps have experienced the same trajectory in the past. Sayat.Me was a similar app which was shut down by its owners following the death of George Hessay, a 15-year-old boy from the UK, who tragically took his own life
Mr Tawfiq referred to the decision to drop his app as ‘unfortunate’ and is ‘very optimistic about reaching a favourable understanding with them soon.’
He says his company has upgraded its filtering system to use ‘artificial intelligence and machine learning’ to avoid such messages being sent and received.
The app was first designed to let users send and receive honest feedback and it is meant to help people discover their strengths and weaknesses.
‘Sarahah helps you in discovering your strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner’, the app description explains.
Once users have downloaded the app, they set up an account to start receiving messages.
Mr Tawfiq referred to the decision to drop his app as ‘unfortunate’ and is ‘very optimistic about reaching a favourable understanding with them soon.’ He says his company has upgraded its filtering system to use ‘artificial intelligence and machine learning’to detect abusive messages
The messages appear in a feed where they can be favourited, blocked and deleted without the sender knowing.
Users have no way of knowing who sent the message or how to reply to them.
US-based NGO called Common Sense Media has said Sarahah is not recommended for children and said it is ‘ready-made for cyberbullying’.
‘Sarahah is easy to use, so kids won’t have any trouble figuring out how to operate the app’, a common-sense media contributor wrote in Huffington Post.
‘But because all comments are anonymous, it’s very easy for people to say mean and hurtful things without any repercussions.
‘Reviews on the App Store indicate that Sarahah is being used as a cyberbullying tool. For these reasons, Sarahah is not appropriate for kids.’