As anonymous applications make it increasingly popular for people to spill their secrets to strangers online, one is causing serious trouble for high schools.
The After School iOS app uses location and Facebook data to determine which school users attend, and displays messages posted from other students at their school. The app is completely anonymous, and says it can be used by people ages 12 and up for “funny, anonymous school news for confessions and compliments”—much like the famous Burn Book from the movie Mean Girls. Many of the posts on the app are vulgar and personally attack students. But by looking at the app’s logo, what more would someone expect?
One anonymous poster threatened to bring a gun to school, resulting in increased security at a Flushing, Mich., high school. MLive reports that Michigan police are making lists of students who used the application to help with the investigation, and the FBI is assisting in locating the app developer to serve a search warrant.
Students are poring over the application to see what gossip fellow classmates are posting, especially in Michigan school districts. Understandably, parents, students, and school administrators are upset. One student, Juliana Davis from Swartz Creek, Mich., started a Change.org petition to get the application removed from the App Store. She writes:
Bullying is already an enormous problem for us as high school students, and adding anonymous apps like these into the mix only makes things worse. With the shield of anonymity, users have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves—and all of these things are happening.
At least three Michigan school districts including Flushing, Davison, and Bentley, have sent letters home to parents warning them about the application, saying it’s highly offensive and should be deleted from devices. Timothy Stein, superintendent at Flushing Community Schools, described the gun threat and problems the application has caused in a letter to parents on Dec. 2.
purpose of the app continues to be in question and very concerning … We have also discovered that several of the individuals accessing the site have no
affiliation with the school, even though they claim to be Flushing High School students.
Last evening, further evidence of the problems this app creates came to light. Flushing High
School Principal, Jason Melynchek, received a text from a student to notify him of a posting
found on Afterschoolapp.com stating “Bringing a Gun to School.” While it was quickly
determined by law enforcement to not be a credible threat to the safety of our students and staff,
we always treat these situations very seriously.
There’s another problem plaguing the app that carries greater weight than locker room gossip—and it comes with potential jail time. The Burton, Mich., police department warned people not to use the app in a post on Facebook, and reminded parents and students that posting sexually explicit material of underage people and child pornography is a felony.
Some students are downloading the application to see if people are talking about them, but many are outraged by the it.
The app is still relatively new, but it’s climbing app charts. According to App Annie, it was ranked No. 25 for social networking in the U.S. And the conversation around “After School app” on Twitter has also increased in recent days, with hundreds of tweets per day.
The After School app itself doesn’t seem to be taking harassment very seriously. While it encourages people to report bullying to app support and threatening messages to authorities, it also says (with considerable snark) that if students don’t like what they see on the app, then they should simply not use it.
From After School’s FAQ page [emphasis added]:
What should I do if I see objectionable content?
Report it to us. We believe in free speech and the ability for people to express themselves. If you find the majority of the content too offensive, consider using your phone to instead look at cat pictures or browse a less cutting-edge social network like Facebook. However, we are always able to remove posts and block users who are actually abusing the system.
The Daily Dot reached out to the After School app, and will update if we hear back.
While this app appears to be specifically targeting high school students, other anonymous applications actually try to prevent the type of behaviors After School fosters.
In March, Yik Yak, the location-based anonymous social network, blocked itself from junior high and high school campuses, but posts on the application are still causing dust-ups at campuses. Two threats made on the application forced one California high school to close its doors for two days in November.
Anonymous applications are hugely popular, especially for young people who’d rather turn to anonymous Internet users for gossip and personal secrets than to Facebook or other applications where parents and friends alike share status updates. But these apps can also promote cyberbullying, and in the case of After School, explicit, underage photos, and gun threats that must be taken seriously.
The Change.org petition has yet to garner even 1,500 signatures, but chances are After School is going to have to put in some serious user protections, or it could be pulled from the App Store. Facebook also has policies in place for any application using Facebook Login—developers have to abide by Facebook’s Platform Policies, and can’t have content like pornography or bullying in the app itself. If Facebook thinks After School violates those policies, it could potentially cut off access to Facebook’s API.
When it comes to high school gossip, anonymous apps will never be used just for fun confessions and compliments.
Update 10:37am CT, Nov. 4: After School has been removed from the App Store. That was fast.