After School App

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5 Reasons Your Kids Shouldn’t Use After School App
Why parents and administrators are freaking out about an app called After School


After School fosters fun and creative online and offline experiences for America's teens, in a positive environment with zero tolerance for cyberbullying, threats, or content that threatens the safety of our online community.

5 Reasons Your Kids Shouldn’t Use After School App

Can you remember what it was like to be in school? Arguments over who had the most expensive trainers, teachers complaining about your haircut or dress sense, and endless amounts of playground gossip.

The latter of those three – playground gossip – moved into the 21st Century in November 2014 with the launch of the After School app on iOS and Android.

Ominously, the app’s tagline says it provides “Funny anonymous school news for confessions and compliments”. That alone should be enough to set parents’ alarm bells ringing.

How Does the App Work?

Before we dive into the reasons, let’s take a moment to briefly look at what functions the app provides.

The entire app revolves around anonymous and private message boards for any given school. Messages can take the form of videos, pictures, or regular text. Anyone in a school can see all the messages posted, and users are not identifiable in any way unless they reveal personal details within a message.

Lastly, users need to sign-up with Facebook. This enables the app to verify which school users attend based off their profile information and their friends.

1. Bullying. The most obvious criticism of an app of this nature is the potential for bullying.

Cyberbullying has become a huge problem in the last few years. The explosion of social media has taken the harassment away from school corridors and onto the web, a place where it’s much harder to monitor.

The After School app faced massive criticism when it first launched for its inadequate cyberbullying controls. It was taken down from both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store after a slew of complaints.

It was relaunched in April 2015. It now has live moderators who review every post and tag it with the type of content it contains, along with stricter age verification controls.

2. Out of the Reach of Teachers. Teachers have always taken a somewhat parental role in the classroom; they have a duty of pastoral care to the children in their school.

That duty of care extends beyond being vigilant against bullying. If a child is struggling to keep up with their work, is depressed about their looks or weight, is suffering from problems outside of school, or is showing signs of extreme behavior, they can step in and try to help the situation.

With this app, a child’s frustrations can be taken out away from the gaze of both teachers and parents. For example, one user in Michigan claimed that they were going to bring a gun to school. It resulted in a police and FBI investigation before being eventually cleared as a hoax. The comment’s author was never uncovered.

In the wake of such problems, After School implemented a new service called FIRST. It aims to monitor social media to detect threats and alert authorities. It isn’t fool-proof, but it’s a step in the right direction.

3. Age/School Verification. Yes, there are stricter controls in place in terms of verifying a user’s age and school – but the main tool for the verifications is still Facebook.

This is clearly a recipe for disaster. Children can easily lie about their credentials on Zuckerberg’s network – it already has a problem with underage users. This could potentially grant them access to the message boards of friends’ (or enemies’) schools where they could wreak anonymous havoc.

More worrying, however, is the potential for adults to pose as children and gain access. It would take most Internet-savvy people less than five minutes to create a fake Facebook profile that purports to be a 15-year-old school-goer. Add a few people from the school you want to target and you’d presumably be given access.

4. Personal Details. We live in an age of government surveillance, spying programs, and eroding privacies. This is bad enough where adults’ information is concerned, but as a parent, do we not have a responsibility to protect our children from these concerns for as long as possible?

Once again, this comes back to the usage of Facebook. The app’s website says “We use your friends, education, and location information [to verify your school]”. Why should the app be given so much information about a minor’s personal life? It’s creepy.

Even if they aren’t using the details for nefarious (read: money-making) purposes, what happens if their servers are hacked? All the app’s anonymity is lost in a heartbeat.

5. Impersonation. Just because a user needs to provide their Facebook credentials to verify their school, it doesn’t mean that once they have access to the app they cannot impersonate someone else.

Even their own marketing images highlight a potential nightmare, with an address for a party given out to everybody. Who is inviting people to this party? Is there even a party? Do these hosts even know there’s going to be gatecrashers arriving? Who would want their child’s address given out like this?

In an interview with The Washington Post, Mya Bianchi, a 15-year-old attendee of Ionia High School in central Michigan, said the following:

“At first it was people saying nice things and complimenting others, and then it turned into bullying. A user posted my phone number along with instructions to contact me for photos, a message that was punctuated by a winking smiley face and icons of a camera and a bikini. After receiving harassing messages, I had to change my number.”

Would you want your kid exposed to that?

What Concerns Do You Have?

The app’s developer is trying hard to present a friendly and open image. A visit to the app’s homepage shows a several videos in which students espouse the virtues of the app with quotes such as “I like After School because unlike other social media, I’ve only seen nice things”, “After School is probably the best app on the marketplace”, and “I like After School better than Facebook because everything is anonymous”.

There are clearly issues though – a quick search on Google will reveal a mountain of negative press and quotes from concerned parents.

Why parents and administrators are freaking out about an app called After School

Meet the new panic about teens using technology, same as the old panic about teens using technology.

This time around, the panic is about an app called After School, which bills itself as “Funny Anonymous School News For Confessions & Compliments.”Owned by social media startup One, the app is aimed at high schoolers and provides a service similar to the anonymous, location based app Yik Yak. It allows users to post anonymous messages based on the school they attend and which only their classmates are intended to see.

This week a threat about shooting up a high school in Virginia was posted on After School, as well as one in Massachusetts. Meanwhile a school in Dallas is “Alarmed” by the app, and it “has Tampa Bay area parents worried.”

A recent profile in the Washington Post describes a student in Michigan named Mya Bianchi who had to change her phone number after it was posted on After School alongside instructions to contact her for photos; Bianchi’s mother told the Post she doesn’t ” feel like there should be something that excludes parents” the way After School does. A principal in North Carolina describes his dismay at being able to do much because the app is anonymous.

What’s a little odd about this particular panic is that After School itself isn’t all that new. It showed up on the App Store and the Google Play Store last November, but was removed twice over the next month after it was used for cyberbullying and to post threats about bringing guns to a couple of schools. It relaunched on the App Store in April with a litany of new safety measures, including, according to a report by Re/Code, outsourced moderation by humans; every post would be viewed by someone before going up on the app, After School’s COO and co-founder Cory Levy told the tech news site at the time.

For his part, Levy is also there in the Post‘s article, alongside his co-founder Michael Callahan, insisting the app is mostly benign and explaining their filtering process:

Levy said that an algorithm automatically blocks posts with certain verbiage — like those that urge other students to harm themselves. And he said other posts are reviewed by dozens of moderators who screen for cyberbullying and harassment around the clock; users also can report individual posts to have them removed. Callahan said the bar is very low for what is banned: Even a comment such as “Michael is a slow runner” would be blocked. If they are aware their child is using the app, parents can now set filters to block certain content.

For comparison, Yik Yak’s solution to the problem of underage teens bullying each other back in early 2014 was to remove itself from middle and high schools by blocking the app from those locations. That didn’t didn’t stop students from using it off-campus, though.

If you try and use After School, the app greets you with an image of a woman in a bikini with a tiger’s head wearing shutter shades, the app’s apparent mascot. Then it presents a list of nearby high schools; according to a recent article in The Washington Post, there are 22,300 schools on the service. If you choose a school, it attempts to verify you based on your Facebook profile and friends, though if it can’t, it won’t give you access.

After School has embarked on its own positive PR campaign. A visit to the website displays a grid of videos by satisfied users, each offering a testimonial about what they like about After School. “After School is awesome ’cause it’s making me a star” one boy sings, strumming an acoustic guitar. “The thing about after school is that there’s almost never anything negative,” a girl with braces in a darkened room says quietly. There’s unusual use of phrases like “best app on the marketplace,” “connect with my friends,” “how easy it is to navigate and use.”

Nothing about this is new, though. Parents and school officials have been concerned about Yik Yak, Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger, and just the fact that their children are active online in general. It’s absolutely true that bad online behavior are a part of student life now, both on college campuses and among younger students. This is just another instance that, as Vocativ’s Annemarie Dooling has written, will probably be forgotten quite quickly.

That isn’t to say it shouldn’t be dealt with, or that After School is a perfect —or even a good— piece of technology, but that this is a human problem, not a technological one. Anonymity doesn’t help the situation, but the idea that anonymity is a new feature of bullying is absurd.

In the past you could make fake screen names, or block a phone number, or leave anonymous notes. Kids can be vicious, but After School isn’t the source of that problem, or even its main amplifier. It’s just an old issue wearing a different, tiger-and-shutter-shade shaped mask.