Apps Promoting Cyber-bullying?

Schools+across+the+nation+are+dealing+with+an+app+called+After+School%2C+which+allows+students+to+post+anonymous+comments+about+students+and+teachers.+The+app+has+also+been+attacked+for+allowing+students+to+post+sexually-explicit+content.+

Liliana Hernandez

Schools across the nation are dealing with an app called After School, which allows students to post anonymous comments about students and teachers. The app has also been attacked for allowing students to post sexually-explicit content.

Liliana, Staff Writer

Imagine you are simply enjoying a day off when you decide to check in with social media. You’re scrolling through your newsfeed and you see people are buzzing about a new app called After School. You decide to download the app and see what the buzz is all about. As you open up the newly-downloaded app, you choose the school you go to and the grade you are in. The app goes through a process of verifying that you go to the school that you have selected. You begin to scroll through the app’s newsfeed and notice that most kids are simply speaking about crushes and backed up homework, until you notice that one particular post is more vulgar than the others. And then you start to notice more and more. It’s now a stream of inappropriate and hurtful posts, but it’s all made anonymously. You start to think to yourself, “Why should I care? No one would post anything like this about me.” But many targeted teens probably felt the same thing. Frighteningly, After School is not just secluded to Round Lake High Schools. The app  is causing a bullying epidemic across the nation.

According to DoSomething.org, 43 % of students have been bullied online, and apps like After School make it easy. The American Osteopathic Association says that many students who have been cyberbullied are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and become sleep deprived. From a recent International Journal of Public Health, it is stated that the rate of cyberbullying has increased by 40% in the past 5 years worldwide. Twenty percent of kids who are bullied online think about suicide, while 1 in 10 actually go through and make an attempt on those thoughts.

Many students do not report or care about cyberbullying because they believe it doesn’t affect them. While in most cases that is true, many students here at RLHS have been affected. Sophomore Alexis Phares was notified that she was being talked about on the app. “I don’t even have Facebook or the app itself, but I still got an email saying that I was mentioned in somebody’s post,” she said. This led Phares to discover that people were writing and agreeing  that “Alexis Phares makes me wanna throw up.” At first, Alexis Phares didn’t pay much attention to the post, but she then, ” [I felt] uncomfortable that the post was made anonymously,” she said. “It means someone who I call a friend could have written that.”  

The After School app claims to have a “zero tolerance for cyberbullying,” but to date, no action has been taken to eliminate the bullying. The After School app was released in October 2014 by Ambient Corporation. The intended purpose of the app was to create opportunities for students to “chat with experts on school issues or anything stressing you out,” but the app was still rated 17+ for warnings like “Infrequent/Mild Profanity” and “Infrequent/Mild Use of Reference of Drugs and/or Alcohol.”

An RLHS junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, was the center of a stream of posts that were inappropriate and upsetting. “The posts were about my dating life, but only few friends know about that, and I don’t have much to tell about my dating life,” she said. “I’ve only had a few relationships. It hurts that someone thinks they can just change who I am. I always try to stay positive, but this was very degrading”

This bullied junior feels the everlasting effect of the comments made on After School.  “ I never really did get over it,” she said. “I, for some reason, always have my guard up now when I speak to someone I don’t know, and it makes me feel like a rude person. But I don’t know what else to do.”

Several articles from The Washington Post have listed several students forced to deal with instances of cyberbullying across the country. Some teenagers also post sexually explicit content. According to one article titled, “After School app displays student nudity, bullying,” many law enforcement officers and school district officials in towns in Idaho are concerned about the app, which they try to block at school by using filters. However, a school district spokesperson said that if students don’t use the school network and switch to data, they can access the app during school hours.

Parents are also puzzled, as they have no way to download the app themselves. After School requires student verification in the form of a student ID card or driver’s license. And students can always hide apps away in folders or under shell apps that look like calculators.

Because this app is so widespread and hard for adults to block or tap into, it’s important that parents, teachers, school officials, and other students make sure to speak out about bullying. It’s also important that we all look out for telltale signs of bullying: depression, anxiety, lack of motivation and failing grades, and in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.