“After School” App Manipulates Users

Categories: Social Networking
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: December 8, 2015

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:

2015-12-05 13.24.38
From 12/5/15

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.

From 12/7/15
From 12/7/15

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:

Also 12/7/15
Also 12/7/15

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.

What’s an OS? An EdTech Failure

Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: December 1, 2015

A young woman purchased a laptop with the Ubuntu operating system, didn’t know how to work with it, and the frustration made her abandon her plans to start online college courses. Then a local news reporter picked up on the story:

It seems this news report is trying to say Dell, or perhaps technology in general, is at fault for this young woman’s problem, despite the reporter contacting the college and her ISP for additional assistance. Meanwhile, there are several reaction videos online as well, with people calling the woman stupid and blaming her for not knowing what she was purchasing and/or not being able to figure things out.

Unfortunately the problem is not that simple, in either direction.

The video was posted in 2009, but I hear of similar stories today, often with Chromebooks. It’s 2015. Let’s consider:

Students should not be graduating from high school without any clue what an operating system is. Even if they haven’t been exposed to ChromeOS or Linux, even if they only use Windows at home or at school, they should understand that there are indeed different operating systems out there and they should be able to recognize the difference in product literature.

Students should also understand what they’re asking for when they’re talking to Internet providers. If she’d purchased a shiny new MacBook Pro today, would the disc from her ISP have Mac software on it? Or if she’d purchased a MacBook Air with no drive, would she have been just as lost? If she went the cheap route and purchased a Chromebook, would she have the same problem? (And just wait until she tries to print.)

If she can’t connect to the Internet or set up an email client without a disc from an ISP, then it’s safe to say she will be just as lost when she visits a coffee shop or other public hotspot. She hasn’t learned the basics of what a network is, and probably not what a browser is or how they work. It’s probably safe to say she doesn’t even have an understanding of how the Internet works.

And yes, while Ubuntu will work just fine with all of her courses as the college confirmed, she’s going to be facing an uphill battle by learning her way around an OS while studying (and probably working a day job, too). The same is true if she’d purchased a Chromebook. There are plenty of online resources to help her learn, but that’s more time spent not working on class materials.

With enough basic information on operating systems, file systems/structures, networking, and software, a student should be able to sit down in front of any operating system and find the settings and software they need. It may take a little tinkering or searching, but networking is networking and a browser is a browser. At worst case they should know how to find the information they need with a Google search on a phone or a friend’s computer.

Unfortunately most classes teach “click here.” When “here” is not there anymore, students are lost.

I don’t know how many schools address these things in curriculum, but it’s something that needs to be taught. Any student who graduates without being proficient in computing—not just specific apps like Office—is only going to fall behind.

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