After School, an app that allows for anonymous messaging, has hit the classrooms of Charlottesville High School. After School serves as an outlet for messaging and gossip while maintaining anonymity.
“At some point, sure, it’s anonymous. But not everything is anonymous. Those statements aren’t; those statements are real,” said Dr. Justin Malone, Assistant Principal at C.H.S.
The twitter page “Our Confessions”, also known as C.H.S. Confessions, brought up many of the same issues for the administration as After School did when it was created in January of 2014.
“The harmful aspect of it is that with C.H.S. Confessions, people’s names, students and staff, were put on there,” said Malone. The page was shut down within a month of its first tweet, and the creator is still unknown.
Some students, like Emily Thorne, a junior at C.H.S., prefer After School to C.H.S. Confessions because of its bigger emphasis on anonymity.
“I feel like on C.H.S. Confessions people would directly point out another person, but on After School, people just don’t do that,” she said.
Both sites, C.H.S. Confessions and After School, have similar content when it comes to posts about crushes and friends teasing each other: “I really like ________, but I don’t have the courage to talk to her” from After School and “I don’t even go to C.H.S. but I have a small crush on a girl with purple hair” from C.H.S. Confessions. However, the latter tended to be on the more controversial side, featuring posts such as “Watch your back _____” and “Let’s face it, I’m pretty sure Mr. ______ is unsure of his sexuality.”
The mission of After School, listed on the app’s website, is to “allow you to share your thoughts, secrets, confessions, experiences, and feelings with others”. Users can submit original text, photos, or memes to be published.
“I thought it was going to be people getting exposed, but it’s actually just people professing their love for their fellow students,” said sophomore Trevon Jackson, a long-time After School user who downloaded the app over a year ago.
After School is ranked eighteenth in the Social Networking category of the App Store, right ahead of Yik Yak, an anonymous forum geared toward college students.
“We’re in over 20,000 high schools,” said Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of After School, Cory Levy. “We’re the largest teen social network in the app store.”
According to an article on recode.net, After School was taken off the app store in December of 2014 for its violations of Apple store policy. Riddled with threats of violence, it was cited as “defamatory, offensive, [and] mean-spirited”, also containing content that was “excessively objectionable or crude”.
When the app relaunched this year, it was equipped with many new safety features. Each post entered by a student is reviewed by an After School employee, according to Levy. The review process has many components, with key word recognition, categorical rankings, and evaluation of urgency. Profanity is also restricted to users seventeen and over, a validation that is ensured by the scanning of a driver’s license.
“If it’s tagged as a cry for help, we’ll immediately offer that student the ability to connect with a counselor within seconds,” said Levy, who reported that thousands of students use this feature each month.
When the app is first opened, a user must select a school server to join. This page also shows the number of active students at each school. At Charlottesville High School, there are currently 320 students who have downloaded After School.
According to Thorne, students from all over the Charlottesville-Albemarle area were talking about the new app. Albemarle High School and Monticello High School both have about 400 active students, while area private schools also have a presence. Saint Anne’s Belfield has 130 students online, Covenant about 165, and Tandem Friends has 70.
Anonymous posting is only one of the characteristics that Levy cites when explaining the app’s success.
“We are a closed community. Yik Yak, Twitter, and Facebook are all very, very open. But After School is you and your classmates and that is the extent of the network,” said Levy.
Similar to the goal of Facebook when it first launched in 2004, said Levy, After School is meant for just students, no parents or teachers are involved. This is what Levy said fosters a sense of freedom within the app.
“You can express yourself without having to worry about judgement or repercussions,” said Levy.
The app provides an outlet for students to speak their minds, but sometimes this leads to angry administrations and upset students.
“My least favorite part is that some of the things that people say are mean to others,” said Thorne.
Malicious posts can be reported by app users, said Levy, but sometimes inside jokes can fly under the radar.
“We’re trying to do everything in our power that enables students to have control over what they see and be able to squash it and fix it really quickly,” said Levy.
When schools reach out to After School with issues surrounding the app, Levy said he tries his best to convince them of the app’s goals.
“Our number one priority is to protect our users and keep them safe. We want administrators to know that we’re on the same side,” said Levy, who cited two situations in which he was forced to suspend the app service at a school. At these particular schools, both Levy and the school administrations felt it was inappropriate for the students to continue using the app.
The C.H.S. administration is not actively working to combat After School, according to Malone, but they will act proactively, and not wait for an issue to cue their involvement.
“It already sparked my curiosity, not because there was a complaint but just because there’s another platform of anonymous postings that could be harmful,” said Malone.
Instead of administrations monitoring their school’s activity on the app, Levy feels there are other ways to ensure the safety of all those involved.
“The goal would be just for the students [to be on After School] but we’re discussing internally right now how we can work better with schools,” said Levy.
Levy is optimistic that as time goes on, schools will become more understanding and open to After School.
“We’ve had several discussions with administrators where they come at us thinking we’re the worst thing ever and after they start to understand a little bit more about us, they’re say ‘I’m so sorry, I came off so rude. I didn’t know any of the things you were doing.’ And we get that every day, the haters and the supporters. just because of the lack of information out there. They don’t know all the things we’re doing to help students.”
As for the After School presence at Charlottesville High School, it is yet to be seen if the administration will choose to monitor the app.
“I don’t think the administration should get involved. I feel like [posts] should just be reported by students who are on the app,” said Jackson. “It should be something just for the students.”
Jackson has never personally reported a post, but not for lack of trying.
“I just haven’t seen any posts that are that bad. It’s just people talking about their crushes,” he said.
“These things come in waves. They die out and something else comes around. What flashes is the new platform, the new mechanism,” said Malone who believes that After School will soon disappear from C.H.S. “But I do think we have a responsibility. This is part of your world. It’s part of our world. And it’s not going anywhere.”
However for now, After School is still prevalent at C.H.S. Over a quarter of the student body has downloaded the app, and it gains a few new members each day, according to the app server counters.
“It’s funny to see people proclaiming their love,” said Jackson. “But I don’t like it being anonymous. I just wish people were bold enough to say who they really are.”