Social Media and Honesty: Expressing Yourself Anonymously

Nowadays, social media is a given.  Whether you tweet, update your Facebook status, or enjoy uploading images of a midday meal or two, the assumed default is that everyone is involved in at least one type of social media.  That assumption, combined with our own need to be ever-connected, continues to feed the development of new and intriguing takes on social media.  Case in point:  Sarahah.

Created by Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq and named for the Arabic word for ‘honesty’, Sarahah enables users to send anyone in their social network—friends, family, coworkers—anonymous messages.  The goal, he says, was to enable people to give feedback to others without fear, as factors like age gaps or rank differences can make it difficult to have open, constructive discussions.  As such, the site explicitly avoids recording the identity of who sends what, so users can send and receive messages without worrying that their confessions will be linked back to them.

The site was originally made to help businesses, but quickly grew beyond such specific scope thanks to 270 million views and 20 million users.  Most popular in Egypt with nearly 2.5 million users, the site is also gaining ground in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria and Kuwait.  This number will undoubtedly continue to grow as the service develops further—and with its FAQ page revealing a ‘reply to message’ function is in the works, clearly there are plans to do just that.

Although this specific social media service is a trending, up-and-coming new platform, this is not the first time its foundational idea of ‘anonymity’ has been a means of the, somewhat oxymoronic, privately public social media confession.

In January of 2005, for example, a project wherein unidentified people would send in decorated postcards with a personal, untold secret on it was created.  Over the course of two years, the project, and community around it, expanded to such an extent that the PostSecret webpage was launched.

Whisper, released in March 2012, is primarily a mobile app, although it does have its own website.  The app follows PostSecret precedent of secrets or confessions overlaid on pictures, with the difference of all the submissions being digital.

Finally, there’s Yik Yak—a smartphone app launched in 2013 with the goal of allowing people to create, view, reply to, and vote on anonymous posts…but only those created by other users within a 5-mile radius of one’s location.  As of late, however, the app has begun to shift away from complete and total anonymity by granting users the option to post under their specific profile name.

Whether it’s through snail mail like PostSecret or an online site like Sarahah, it’s obvious that people desire an anonymous means to connect and be heard—especially in those instances where the topic of conversation is sensitive or potentially uncomfortable.


Rashwan, N. (2017, February 27). ‘Ready for honesty?’ An anonymous message site takes off. Retrieved from BBC:

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). PostSecret – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Whisper (app) – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Yik Yak – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:


Erin Shores

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Timbuktu Manuscript project and Promoting Libraries on Mass Media

In one of our previous blog posts, we introduced the plight of Timbuktu ancient manuscripts in Mali during the ongoing war.[i] As recent report says, after being rescued from the Islamic fundamentalists, these materials were relocated to South Mali, which has caused new threats to them. Now they are facing preservation issues caused by humidity in their new home. This area is much more humid than Timbuktu, which is very arid. After being moved to South Mail, these manuscripts are still kept in footlockers, which are not moisture proof. These manuscripts are printed on rag paper and are very fragile to the humidity. Some manuscripts are already damaged by the moisture,[ii] showing signs of mildew and rot.[iii] The damage will become more severe if these manuscripts are not better preserved by mid June, the rain reason of Mali.x

In order to gain outside help rescuing these manuscripts, Timbuktu librarians launched a campaign to raise funds for preserving these materials. Approximately 7 million dollars are needed to purchase archival boxes and humidity traps to keep these manuscripts before they can be returned to Timbuktu. In view of the time limit, Timbuktu librarians used multiple approaches to seek outside help. This effort has been promoted in a variety of ways, including CNN news channel, Facebook, twitter, and Reddit. All of them are gaining considerable attention.  An Indiegogo channel was created to collect donations. As of the close of the campaign, on June 20, 2013, $67,446 was collected out of the $100,000 asked for.[iv] You can still contribute to the manuscripts cause through a Pay Pal account linked from the T160K website.

This campaign is a perfect illustration of using Internet to promote library activities. Internet spreads information much faster than the traditional library outreach approaches, such as poster, departmental collaboration, exhibits, etc. The funding Timbuktu library gets on Indiegogo increases exponentially day by day.  It also collects a much larger audience. This campaign gets supporters from Facebook users, Twitter users, CNN followers, and Reddit readers. Other libraries can learn this experience for their own outreach. Despite of some limits of mass media promotion for library activities and fundraising, such as less targeted user group and some security issues, it does bring a faster and more influential option to future library promotion. Also, other online resources could also be used to collect user experience information and other feedback to improve library services and increase our influence all around.

For more information on the manuscript rescue, listen to the interview of Abdel Kader Haidara on BBC Outlook:

[i] Denise Rayman. (2013) The Timbuktu Library Burnings and the Importance of Library Disaster Planning.

[ii] Timbuktu Libraries in Exile.

[iii] Saved from Islamists, Timbuktu’s manuscripts face new threat.

[iv] Timbuktu Libraries in Exile. Indiegogo.

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