A picture is worth a 1000 words. When playing with a new app, I try to keep an open mind and look at it from a kid’s perspective as well as a parent’s. However, when a woman in a bikini with a tiger head greets you, you start to form an opinion about where this is heading.
The After School app is the latest anonymous app for teens. With the tragic murder of Nicole Lovey, anonymous messaging apps have come under increased scrutiny. Apps such a Kik, Yik Yak and After School have been linked to bomb threats, sexting and/or cyberbullying.
Despite this, the After School app reports that 75% of U.S. high schools use their app. Teens are gravitating to apps that allow them to share with each other away from prying adult eyes. When these apps add in anonymity coupled with limited oversight, these spaces can move from funny messages to cruel comments.
What is the After School App
The After School app is an anonymous messaging app for teens. The app only allows high school students to join. To keep parents and teachers off, students must register via their Facebook profile. The app checks their Facebook friends and location to make sure they go to the school. Once registered, they can only see the feed from their high school.
The tagline for this app is “Funny Anonymous School News for Confessions & Compliments.“ The intent is that students post a picture or a funny gif with a comment about themselves or a classmate. Other students can like or comment on the post.
True to its word, most of the posts I saw were classmates confessing a secret crush. I also saw a few compliments. Compliments ranged from commenting on someone’s pretty hair to liking someone’s ass. Typically, the comments were simply agreeing with the observation or encouraging their classmate to “go for it.”
While other schools have reported sexting and bullying, I did not see these types of posts. The After School app does filter out “sexual, drugs, profane and gross content”. Content that is sexual and explicit is kept in a 17+ area. To access this content, teens must scan their driver’s licenses to prove they are at least 17.
While sexting is legal for 18 year old adults, it is not for 17 year old teenagers. I am not sure why After School decided 17 year olds can see and share sexual content. The 17+ appears to reflect app ratings vs. legal realities. Teens should not use this app for sexting.
On my Android phone, I could not access the 17+ area. Teens using After School on an Android phone will find they have fewer features than their Apple friends do. BeWebSmart has an excellent review of the After School App for iOS.
What Parents need to know about After School App
No Guarantees only Sharing with Classmates
Using Facebook may not be the best identifier. Reportedly, After School verifies high school attendance via location, friend list and listed high school. I signed up using a Facebook Profile I created two minutes before installing the app. My profile had no friends, my pic was a picture of my dog, and no high school was listed. Teens should not assume that everyone on this app is one of his or her classmates.
Myth of Anonymity
Teens are not completely anonymous on this app. While their identity is hidden from their classmates, the After School app knows who they are. If they do something illegal, such as threaten a person or a school, After School, like most anonymous apps, will share their personal information with the police.
As they state in their policy –
“If the content of a Post can reasonably be considered illegal or unlawful (or it seems like the Post is being used to engage in, encourage or promote such activities), in which case we may report your identity to proper authorities in order to protect the rights, property and safety of After School, our users and/or others”
Even on anonymous apps, teens need to be mindful of what they post.
Anonymous App + Impulsive Teenagers
Initially, Apple pulled After School after seeing threats of violence and bullying that violated its App Store Guidelines. Before relaunching, After School beefed up its reporting system. They added and continue to add new safety features.
After School has several layers of reporting. According to the founders, a human moderator reviews every post on After School. Moderators immediately remove posts that violate its terms of service. In addition, users can report offensive posts and comments. One report immediately removes it from the school’s feed. Finally, After School has a zero tolerance for bullying. Teens can report bullying by sending an email to email@example.com.
To help teens, After School is collaborating with Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line provides round the clock help for kids in crisis. On After School, if a user posts a message about self-harm, suicide or any other at-risk behavior, a pop-up appears connecting them with a crisis counselor.
With all the publicity around Yik Yak, Kik, ask.fm, Secret and Whisper, I am surprised these apps do not start with a robust reporting system. When designing apps for teens, Brainstorm by Dan Siegel should be required reading. Teens are by their nature risk takers and impulsive. After School appears to have received this message and has added needed oversight.
Talking to your teen about the After School app
Before a teen downloads After School, parents should talk to them about the potential for adults to use the app, the risks of sexting and the myth of complete anonymity. The founders created this app “to enable teenagers to freely communicate while providing them safety from judgment.” While anonymous apps can create a private place to connect with friends, these apps are not a place where teens can go wild with impunity.