Online anonymity and the need for reform

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Graphic: Aileen Wu

I downloaded After School because a friend had told me about an app that was like Yik Yak for high schools, but I deleted it within a minute. Upon opening After School, there’s a picture of a tiger’s head plastered onto the body of a girl in a bikini—a telling sign of what the app itself is like. Once you connect to your school’s After School campus, you get to see all your peers’ posts, and people’s pictures pop up, encouraging you to leave comments about them. Its popularity is quickly rising, so it’s harms and benefits must be closely examined.

There are many factors for After School’s explosive rise in popularity over the past few weeks. Part of it is that, firstly, it can be opened on high school grounds, unlike Yik Yak, which mainly targets college campuses. Secondly, only people who go to the school itself can be a part of its After School campus, meaning that no outsiders get access to your school’s gossip. In After School, all of the posts are about other students. Posts are generally positive in nature: “Do you think I have a chance with ___?” or  “___ will always be my bae!” All anonymous, of course. After School also lacks the flagging feature on Yik Yak which allows the post to be evaluated if it is offensive, targets someone, or is spam, meaning there are virtually zero moderators on the feeds. While the tone of the posts is mostly positive, the complete anonymity users have easily allows for them to make malicious comments—after all, it’s not as if anyone would know who posted the insulting comment, and little to no action would be taken by the app to remove the post.

However, After School and Yik Yak do come with their benefits; they are platforms of expression for teens.  Both apps cater to the timeless desire of teens to be able to vent about their lives, certainly a better thing than having pent-up emotions. There’s also a sense of camaraderie between the people in the same “herd”, or high school campus. The anonymity both apps provide is a blessing in a certain sense, because users can post about their problems and receive advice without others knowing it’s them. But it’s also a curse, since it means anything can be posted because of the lack of repercussions.

Providing both anonymity to students behind the screens of cellphones with basically no moderation, After School creates the perfect conditions for online bullying to flourish. With seemingly every student—at least at PHS—having access to a smartphone, cyber bullying is just a few taps of the thumb away. As After School gains more users, the risk of cyberbullying grows higher and higher. While cyberbullying isn’t face-to-face, it has equally as grave consequences as “traditional” bullying.

When I made the decision to delete After School from my phone, it wasn’t necessarily the crude images that caused me to make my decision, but the toxic culture that comes with it. When we leave school grounds, we need a time to truly escape the drama that it often brings with it. Instead, After School and Yik Yak allow the further immersion into the world of drama that surrounds us, giving us no chance to relax.

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