Yet another teen-oriented anonymous social media app is making headlines in the U.S. as parents and teachers express concerns over cyberbullying and violent threats.
The app, dubbed After School, has recently exploded in popularity in high schools across the U.S. Millions of teens have downloaded the app, which allows students to post anonymous messages to users within their school’s community.
Users are encouraged to share confessions, feelings, funny moments, or discuss things going on within their school’s community.
But although the app explicitly states that bullying and threats will not be tolerated, reports suggest the app has become a hot spot for bullying, sexting and even alleged criminal activity.
According to a report by The Washington Post, 15-year-old Michigan-area student Mya Bianchi was forced to change her phone number after it was posted to a forum in the app, along with instructions to ask her for explicit photos.
“At first it was people saying nice things and complimenting others, and then it turned into bullying,” Bianchi told The Washington Post.
The app has drawn comparisons to anonymous messaging app Yik Yak, which garnered a lot of controversy in Canada earlier this year after the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) banned the app due to bullying and threats of violence.
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Just like the After School app, Yik Yak offers anonymous messaging between users based on the user’s location. Those using the app are able to see messages from users within the same area.
Yik Yak – which was released in early 2014 – was originally marketed towards college and university students as a hyper-local version of Twitter, but gained more momentum with the high school crowd.
But the app had its fair share of controversy.
In March 2014, a Massachusetts-area high school was evacuated twice after bomb threats were posted to Yik Yak. Later that month, an Alabama teen was arrested after saying they were plotting to shoot someone on the app.
Reports of cyberbullying by people using the app became so rampant multiple Chicago-area schools issued warnings to parents regarding the app and even prompted Yik Yak’s creators to attempt to prevent it from being used on high school or middle school grounds, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In an article discussing the bullying problem on Yik Yak, CNN described the app as “a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.”
Now After School is facing the same accusations.
While the app’s creators did take steps to deter users from participating in bullying on the platform – including noting of its “zero-tolerance policy” against cyberbullying on its App Store listing – the growing controversy prompted the team to issue more details about its anti-bullying policy this week.
In a blog published to Medium late Wednesday, the app’s creators detailed how it plans to combat bullying on its platform.
“After School is a private social network built to enable communication among high school students. If you think this sounds like a dangerous concept without any measures of protection in place, we agree, which is why After School has the most proactive and aggressive moderation and policies in the industry,” read the post, which offered users tips on how to post within their guidelines
“Posts that violate the community guidelines due to bullying will not be viewed by the school’s feed in which it was posted, and the poster may be permanently banned from After School.”
Global News contacted the company for comment regarding how it plans to combat bullying on its platform. The company directed us to its blog post on Medium and included a statement about its vision for the app.
“After School allows students an equal voice within their school and gives them a platform to share their friends and classmates. They are able to share without being judged for their name, class in school, or other factors, which gives After School a unique opportunity to help them in ways that would not be possible otherwise,” said a spokesperson.
It’s important to note the app is not currently available in Canada. It’s unclear whether a Canadian launch is in the works.
When asked whether the app’s moderators alert authorities to posts threatening violence, the company did not comment. However, on its website, the company warns that any posts threatening violence will prompt investigations with authorities.
“Avoid posting about things that hurt people or threaten to hurt people. Bullying has real consequences. If you or someone you know is being bullied, contact us. Unfortunately, we live in a world where bombings and school shootings are realities, so avoid posting about violent acts to the school or students in it. Don’t even joke about it because people take it very seriously. Posts about these things will initiate investigations with the authorities,” reads the website.