Avoiding Anonymity

After School app promotes danger, bullying, should be removed

Syeda Gilani, editor-in-chief

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“An anonymous boy picked John on After School.”

“Would you go to a picnic with Alexis?”

Showing over 700 Stony Point students online, the After School app allows students to mingle with one another and post anonymous thoughts about their school and their fellow students. While it may seem like an app created for complementing one another and addressing issues about school, the reality is much more gilded.

After School is a deceiving app, used by those who bully, circulate drama and scam others. Students should realize the consequences of using the app and making false claims for everyone to see.
When it first released in 2014, the creators of the After School app, during an interview with the Washington Post, hinted that they had between two million to ten million users. And while the app may allow posts using video, photo or regular text, it was impossible to identify who was behind the posts unless the users themselves released their information. However, due to the increase in bullying the app received protest and because of the complaints, both Apple and Google removed the app from their App and Play stores. With a newer and enhanced program known as the Fastest Internet Response System for Threats (FIRST), the app relaunched in April 2015 and began rebranding itself to associate with positivity amongst high schools. Yet, several schools in Idaho reported an issue of nudity, derogatory comments and slut-shaming by anonymous students in February 2016.

After School’s FIRST program is designed with a monitor that alerts the authorities for any possible threats, stores cellphone data to help police officers track certain posts and a warning system that can detect suicidal or depressing posts and send the user counseling information. The system may have reassured parents and the authorities, but the loopholes in its security are easily spotted. Tracked data can come from a stolen phone or if the user may be looking to cause serious damage, he or she may purchase a second-hand phone and easily scam a school’s page. Plus, the app’s main identity verification comes from Facebook and, according to CNN, 25% of the 2000 households surveyed claim they falsify information on their Facebook profile and that doesn’t even include fake profiles. Following the app’s release in 2015, a user from Michigan posted that he was planning a school shooting. Even after a thorough FBI investigation cleared the post as a fake, both Washington Post and TechCrunch found a petition to have the app removed with over 1,500 signatures from high school students in Michigan. While the safety and monitoring systems may alert authorities of any possible threats, the app’s anonymity makes it almost impossible to eliminate the threat since most users cannot be traced.

Hiding user identity may seem fun for those who are using the app to score a few gossip points but what students don’t realize is the amount of users who use the app as a mean to harm other teens and the amount of users claiming to be teens but may be potential predators. According to PureSight, there were 799,041 registered sex offenders in the U.S. in 2015 and 75% of children and teens on social media networks were willing to share both personal and family information with them. Especially with Facebook being the source of verification, a sex offender could easily create a fake profile with Stony Point listed under their education and stalk students who do choose to share their social media information as a way of making new friends. Not only would it pose a threat to students in their time outside of school, it would also become a safety concern for the school itself because finding routes to get into the school unnoticed would be easy.

The creators of the app, in an interview with the Washington Post, claimed that the FIRST system has helped over 50,000 teens struggling with depression and anxiety find counseling and with the new system, the apps overall tone has changed into a more positive and filtered platform. However, students who are posting about their personal problems are opening themselves up to 700 others on the same page and while they may be getting the help they need, publicly displaying a teenager’s issues may result in an increase in bullying.

It is easy to understand why the creators are having issues with the petitions and protests to remove the anonymous system because that changes the original idea the app was based upon and neither does it eliminate the bullying platform with apps like Whisper, Yik Yak and Ask.fm around. However, since FIRST does allow teens to activate a filtration system which includes “sexual,” “drugs,” “profanity” and “gross,” the app can be designed in a way which permanently filters out such categories and add additional ones that can allow stricter policy and stricter verification, such as sending in an actual school ID card.

The After School app encourages bullies and possible predators to find information about potential victims. Students should discourage use of the app unless it addresses serious school concerns or allows them to mingle through positive posts. Parents should encourage students to report any bullying seen on the app or any threatening posts and administration should look into identifying bullying or harassment from users on the Stony Point page. It may seem like any other social media platform but After School promotes anonymity in a negative way and poses a threat to both students and the school.

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