Anonymous social media apps are nothing new. But parents and school officials are leery about one of the newer kids on the block: After School, a smartphone app designed to let teens share anonymous posts with their classmates.
While putting the words “social media” and “teens” together in the same sentence may send chills up your spine, in all fairness, it doesn’t appear that After School was created with malicious intent. In fact, the creators say they designed the app to be a “positive place for teens” with zero tolerance for cyberbullying and threats. And while the app appears to have controls in place to limit predatory behavior, the fact is, any online activity presents a risk for teens.
So, parents need to be aware of what the After School app is, how it works, and what they need to do to ensure the safety of their teens online.
How After School Works
After School provides a platform on iOS and Android phones for teenage students (13+) at a particular school to communicate with one another anonymously. When a teen downloads After School, they are prompted to verify their age, identity, and school. This is done by accessing their location, cross-referencing their Facebook account and, in some cases, by requiring the teen to upload a picture of their student ID. The idea is to limit connections to students of a given school.
Inside the app, users can share their thoughts in text, images, and videos. They can choose whether they want each post to be anonymous. After School also has special types of posts its developers say are meant to promote positive interactions among teens. One type of post is a “shout out,” which teens can use to say something encouraging about one of their classmates. Another is the “Would You” post, which teens can use to find others who are interested in activities, such as going to see a particular movie or sitting together at lunch.
After School is different from other social media apps in that it limits teens’ interactions to their classmates and gives them the ability to post anonymously. Another key difference is that students don’t have “profiles” like they do on Facebook or even Twitter; in other words, users can’t look at someone’s profile and see all the interactions they’ve had. Instead, all posts are visible to all users at a given school on one common feed or “wall.”
If you’re a parent and have just read the above description about the After School app, you’re probably shaking your head right now or searching your teenager’s phone. Anonymous posts in a teens-only environment sounds like a recipe for cyberbullying disaster or worse, right?
After School has, in fact, had issues with cyberbullying on their platform, and they were at one point pulled from Apple’s App Store in the past for that very reason. To their credit, when they relaunched the app, they added in several safeguards to prevent abusive, explicit, or dangerous content. They now scan all posts with an algorithm that looks for keywords that could signify abuse. They also employ human moderators who review posts to determine if they should be allowed. And, of course, they have a “report” feature that allows users to report potentially offensive content.
Beyond the safeguards built into the app at the level of the company behind After School, the app does allow parents to create a password in the app to set some parental controls, such as monitoring and content filtering.
Should I Let My Teen Use After School?
The answer to this question will likely vary from family to family. The marketing images on the app’s listing in the App Store or Google Play store will likely be enough to give some parents concern about the app. Other parents may feel that the safeguards that After School has put into place make the app about as safe as it can get, and they may trust their teens to use the app along with some parental guidance.
Regardless, we recommend that parents remain engaged with the apps their teens are using and the way that they are using them. As our friends at Raising Boys & Girls say, it’s important that parents retain the role of gatekeeper, rather than hand that role over to app developers. In other words, we don’t recommend allowing your teen to use After School without at the very least having a conversation with them about what and how they post on the service.
Have further questions about the app, or want to hear more about the comprehensive internet safety plans we develop for families? Contact us today.