Anyone who has heard me speak, or rant, on the issue will know I get immensely frustrated by all the negative news and scaremongering around social media.
This may in part be due to my blind ignorance in this area - I mean I do own a Windows phone, and I occasionally Tweet, but that’s about it.
But, I like to think that I despise the scare tactics around social media because I recognise the important and integral role it has in young people’s lives today and its positive realities and potential.
From my experience of travelling around the UK speaking to young people, as part of my role as Policy and Research Manager for youth charity YMCA, I’ve learned that the quickest way to disengage young people, or to seem completely irrelevant to their lives, is to talk about social media in very stark or absolute terms. Aka social media = bad.
Whether you like social media or not, or you’re just slightly confused by it like me, as with anything new it is best to engage with it, rather than dismiss it completely and hope it goes away. Because the truth is, it’s unlikely to just disappear any time soon.
But having been on the road for the past few months talking to young people across the UK about appearance-based bullying, a constant reference has been made to one app, Sarahah (or Sahara as it’s more commonly pronounced young people).
Whatever way you say or spell it, from the conversations I’ve had with young people, it is fair to say this so called ‘honesty app’ appears to be far from a good thing.
For those of you blissfully unaware of the app, it is Ask FM for the Snap generation. Or for those of you slightly older, like myself, it is the nasty or threatening note passed in class with untraceable handwriting.
Sarahah essentially allows people to send completely anonymous direct messages to individuals they are friends with through other apps, such as Snapchat.
As you can imagine, not many young people use Sarahah to complement their peers on how amazing they are, or encourage them to be positive about the way they look.
Comments such as, “you’re so ugly”, “no one likes you” to the extreme “just go and kill yourself”, are just a few examples of the abuse young people receive through the app on a daily basis.
Installing the app appears to be an act akin to constructing a stream that directs all your friends’ negative thoughts about you directly to your phone. Yet, young people are still doing it. Some out of intrigue, but some also in the quest for positive affirmation.
It’s no secret that bullying has severe effects on young people and Sarahah has rubbed many parents the wrong way.
As I write this, a petition on Change.org to ban apps like Sarahah, has already gained a whopping 469,667 signatures. The petition was started by a mum in Rockhampton, Australia after her 13- year old daughter received a barrage of abuse through the app.
While I echo the sentiment that apps like Sarahah can be detrimental to impressionable young people, banning them won’t solve the problem.
If we really want to solve the issue, we shouldn’t blame or bemoan the young people intrigued enough to install it, or be enraged with app creators or social media and how it is destroying and corrupting our children.
Instead, it’s crucial that we focus on understanding what drives young people to bully their peers in the first place, especially about their appearance, and also why young people are placing such an importance on the way they look, whether that be online or offline.
YMCA’s new research, which will launch next week, is shedding some light on this issue. The research will examine the full range of appearance based bullying faced by young people, its prevalence, its drivers, its impact and what can be done to address it.
However, while the research will help us better understand the issue and how to tackle it, we know that there isn’t one single solution that will stop bullying tomorrow.
So in the meantime, while professionals work out how to tackle the issue head on, it’s crucial that young people know how to cope in the face of bullying and that they know where to go for support. And through more research, we will hopefully better understand what drives young people to be so horrible to each other and stamp out the culture of bullying for good.