Poison Pen Writing

“We call this kind of thing ‘poison pen’ writing, when the writers are grown up, and they are held in universal loathing and hatred, considered the lowest of the low.” – Miss Potts

I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton books – a new title purchased every week of my summer vacation – and this was among the little lessons I picked up from there. Anonymous letters were just not done. They were, I always thought, sent by people who hadn’t the courage to say what they wanted to your face. And courage was important.

Turns out, things have changed and how. Anonymous writing is now not only acceptable but even favourable. Recipients of such letters don’t burn the notes or throw them in the bin but publicise them on their ‘wall’ for everyone to see. Many do this even when the contents of the note are not complimentary – and this, it seems, is the new definition of courage.

In the past weeks or so, the Sarahah app has befuddled, puzzled and upset me. In case you have been fortunate enough to miss out on these notifications on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service that lets people leave you ‘constructive feedback’. The recipient can then showcase these golden nuggets of feedback on their social media profiles.


So, there’s the shy little boy who finally professes his love for the girl who studied with him in high school. Cutesy and all. There’s also the counselor who gives you personality advice. And then there’s the disgruntled friend who complains you haven’t time for them, the random marriage proposer, the abuser, the positive thinker, the one who cannot give up SMS lingo on any platform whatsoever, the drunk messenger, and the wannabe who cannot stop shouting to the world how cool he/she is (and look, it just got validated). Last I heard, there are also people delivering threats and warnings through this app. Bullies, sadists, closet criminals. In an age where it is hard enough to protect ourselves and our loved ones (kids and teens included) from negativity and crime, do we really need yet another platform that facilitates negativity from behind a mask?

The sad truth is, given a chance, many of us want to vent, complain and lash out as opposed to applaud and celebrate. That’s how we are, we the people who get our rush from likes and comments on our daily breakfast.

It disturbs me. This show of one’s true voyeuristic nature behind a veil of anonymity. This thrill people are getting from spewing insults and abuse without coming out with them in the open. Giving in to this idle curiosity and wasting precious time over ‘feedback’ from some random person who hadn’t the heart or the interest to do it to your face. How valuable can such feedback be anyway if this so-called friend didn’t find it important to have shared it with you earlier? What is this desperate need for importance, the need to be thought about, even if the thoughts border on hatred, bullying and poison?

In essence, or so say the app founders, it is idyllic. Here are people who know you and might have advice or a nice thing or two to share. But the anonymity is what rattles me. What is the need to hide behind encryption? What stops you from posting this on someone’s wall through your profile, or heck, picking up the phone on them and saying it in as many words? But no. There’s an adrenaline rush in an anonymous message and it’s just not the same if someone brings this feedback up in conversation. When you get an anonymous message, it means someone found you important enough to be written to, in words of love, passion or hate. You are someone. It is this basic instinct and need to be acknowledged, recognised and held in some regard that this app and others like it seem to be catering to.

It really is heart-breaking to note how primal we remain, how easily swayed and dependent on others for our happiness. All it takes to stir us up is the beep of an incoming anonymous message.


12 thoughts on “Poison Pen Writing

  1. It will come as no surprise when many moons down the line, when people don’t know how to forge a conversation face to face, that they may take out a screwed up thin piece of paper, with conversation written on it and read it back to you. The day people were granted the capability of not having to be accountable to what comes out of their mouth, we lost something very big there…

    • Agree wholeheartedly! That day seems scarily close. We were taught that words that once leave the mouth can never be taken back. But hey, what if you have no clue whose mouth they came from? What if they too blend in with all the noise, sans accountability, sans meaning? Those who first called conversation an art must be grinning like crazy.

      Thank you for dropping by! πŸ˜€

  2. Well funny world we live in we want to remain anonymous but if we get a note from another anonymous we out it on our wall..

    I think we need to learn how to love ourself.. we spend too much time on what other think or will thibk4and in all that waste the opportunity.

    Life is short so one shud do what one pleasrs..and yes I wud also like that instead of anonymous message if someone tells me at my face good or bad it doesn’t matter for even for the bad they have given us a thought.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Bikram. We indeed spend way too much time worrying about other people’s opinions and letting them create/decide/destroy our happiness. What’s worse is, most of these people would not even budge from their places the day you really needed help or a shoulder to lean on.

  3. I remember this line – Malory Towers, wasn’t it?

    You know when I first heard of Sarahah, I was reminded of this game we used to play in school – Fish Pond. Well, this sounds like the app version of it. That game was vindictive, abusive and a trap for people suffering from esteem issues. No wonder the teachers started banning it.

    I still don’t understand the need people have to get external appreciation – that too ANONYMOUS ! Tell it to my face no, how awesome I am πŸ™‚ I have adults on my facebook sharing the “feedback” they get, and it is just sad.

    • Yeah, Malory Towers! πŸ˜€

      That sounds like a weird game – I haven’t witnessed it, but I imagine I have seen counterparts. It all starts early, no?

      Haha – totally buy your point, Prajakta! If I indeed am all that awesome, why don’t you say it to my face? And if I am not, and you care enough to send me a message, don’t you care enough to actually discuss it with me in person? So messed up.

  4. While I completely agree with your views of this “technology abuse”, I would suggest a few points for consideration:
    1. We have no power over what people think, nor can we stop them from putting those thoughts into writing. I have power over me… and nobody else.
    2. Those people you are referring to are nothing without an audience. I never respond to such thoughtless and insensitive comments because I am not going to give them a reaction (= no audience).
    3. If other people confront me with a 3rd party’s comments, I do not respond… except by stressing my disappointment that they considered it worth mentioning to me.
    4. I direct my life, as much as I can, around positive aspects of it (my self -esteem thanks me!). I have no time for negativity.

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