Educators and parents are now faced with yet another app stirring up controversy among students.
After School, a free app that was originally launched in October 2014, is available on more than 23,000 high school campuses nationwide. The app allows teens to post anonymous messages related directly to an individual school. It was designed to share messages, thoughts and updates but instead, is increasingly become a place for online bullying, sexually graphic content and in some cases, violent threats.
After School's message boards are closed to adults. Users must verify that they attend high school by connecting the app to their Facebook pages. Each high school has its own restricted message board accessible only by its students.
That open forum can lead to graphic content.
The issues are similar to those seen with the app Yik Yak, which also allows anonymous posts and has been blocked by many school systems.
The Washington Post reports the app's creators estimate there are between 2 million and 10 million After School users.
Controversy around the app isn't new. After its 2014 release, complaints about its use led to it being pulled from the App Store on multiple occasions. It was released again in April of this year with what creators said were additional safety controls, including a system that is supposed to contact authorities if a threat is detected and more moderators screening posts. The developers said they also track posts from distressed students and can link them with a counselor.
That hasn't stopped all the problems. Students still report bullying, harassing and sexually explicitly comments on After School and police in Virginia Beach, Virginia are investigating a threat issued via the app yesterday.
So what can parents and educators do?
First, parents are advised to have a family app store account so they can know what things their children are downloading.
Set an age restriction on your kid’s phone (as the app is 17+ it won’t allow younger kids to download).
After School also has a feature that can change the access given to their child. Parents can create a password to restrict access and set it so those limitations can't be changed. Schools can also block the app.
Students should be counseled on how to handle threats and bullying and encouraged to speak to an adult when the conversation goes bad.
How to register on the After School App
- Download the After School app.
- When you open the app it will automatically find nearest schools around your location.
- Choose the school group you want to join.
- Click on “I’m a student” (verify with Facebook). To get through the verifying process you need to add the high school to your Facebook page. (watch a detailed guide how to add a school in our video)
From an article by Leada Gore for al.com