Anonymous messaging services like Yik Yak have their place, and can be vibrant communities if the local users have the strength to police it and set their own standards. However, the new After School app/service takes things a bit too far by creating content itself and instigating conflict between users.
A high school teacher brought After School to the administrators’ attention last week, and the same day another coworker received an email from a neighboring school district warning parents about After School. I signed on to the app to see how it was being used (or abused) in our district.
After School presented me with a list of area high schools to join, including our own. It then asked for Facebook login information. They claim this is to verify age, location, and education to prove a user goes to the selected school.
Here’s the thing: my age is not public on my account, the city I list on Facebook is twenty miles away, and I have no education—or even job listing—associating me with the school I work for. I expected After School to reject me, but it let me on anyway.
I was greeted with several inane posts accompanied by gifs. Some were borderline inappropriate, some a bit more blunt, and much of it not unexpected from a teenaged crowd. I did some more digging for reviews and found other users accusing the service of generating content, presumably to get kids chatting.
What makes it so much worse, however, is it frequently lists students by name. Sometimes it’s just a first name, sometimes it’s a first name and last initial. I got to wondering, what if they’re actually using Facebook logins to pull names for their false posts? When a tech from another Illinois district said that’s exactly what happened to him, I started watching for my own name to appear.
It didn’t take long. Here are the smoking guns:
Understand, the only Mikes in the district are myself, our principal, and a junior high student. You might assume this could be about the junior high student, but a previous post referred to “Mike O” and disappeared when I went back to screengrab it.
Even more suspicious. “You mean a lot to me” is pretty typical of the generic pining that appears within the app.
I saved the best for last:
I’ve seen this same post appear with several different names, as well as posts calling other students/users things like “low-key sexy,” or commenting on the impressiveness of their anatomy.
It’s not hard to see how posts like this can quickly stir up trouble among students. We’ve already had confrontations between students as a result of posts, whether due to anger, jealousy, or discomfort.
This crosses a line. Students are still learning their way around social media and relationships, and they can cause enough damage on their own when using anonymous services. A company manipulating student behavior with randomized posts and causing fights is irresponsible at best and criminal at worst.
I’ve been asked, of course, if we can block After School. We may be able to at the schol network level, but it’s going to do no good when students use their cellular service or home Wi-Fi to check the app. Our best bet is to show students what After School is doing, warn them they are being manipulated, and advise them to avoid the app altogether.
Chances are some of them have already figured it out, but the only sure way to avoid further confrontations and fights is to educate our students.