Stuff You Should Know: An App Allowing Millions of Teens to Post Anonymously

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t use the “Stuff You Should Know” feature lightly.

I use it for this link because it’s a pretty dramatic article about an app which sounds quite problematic.

The feature article, published the other day by the Washington Post, details this app – The After School App – which offers a location where students from more than 22,000 U.S. high schools are posting all kinds of things – all anonymously. The creators of the app are quoted in the article:

 Cory Levy, 24, one of the app’s founders, said After School gives teens a chance to “express themselves without worrying about any backlash or any repercussions.” He said the app is a new way for teens to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions anonymously and to more directly address issues such as depression, how to come out as gay to one’s parents or how to navigate the daily challenges of teen life.

Levy said the product creates a much-needed alternative to Facebook and Instagram, where teens have grown up carefully curating digital identities that might not reflect their true struggles and anxieties. After School allows them to be themselves without worrying so much about what other people will think, he said.

Not surprisingly the forum has morphed into a place where cyber-bulling, suicidal pleas, and threats of violence have been posted. While these negative and even dangerous exchanges are surely done via other, conventional social media, the issue with this platform – The After School app – is that it is difficult, if not impossible for non-student adults to gain access:

After School limits its audience to teens by requiring users to verify that they attend high school through their Facebook pages and by creating restricted message boards for each high school campus. Parents and others who want to access the app would have to lie to do so, saying on Facebook that they attend the high school. Even then, parents could be stopped by an algorithm that aims to block people from posing as high school students.

Therein lies my biggest concern about this app – parents and school officials are obstructed from seeing not only what individuals are saying, but whether a school or district has active (and perhaps negative or dangerous) activity. Again, there’s many other sites where a student can complain about teachers or others at their school. But with these, there’s a transparency which permits observation and monitoring by adults. With After School, this appears to be deliberately blocked.

There’s more to this article of value and importance, so I urge you to make it a “long read” this weekend.



Gadgets – Home and Internet Security for Parents & Kids

I admit, I’m a gadget guy.  I don’t have much disposable income (I’m a Catholic school teacher after-all) to actually buy most of the interesting items, but I do like to “window shop” and see what’s out there.

This list of useful gadgets geared specifically for parents caught my eye.

My wife and I have talked about investing in some type of home security gadget (or a full home system like SimpliSafe).  We just gave our 11 year-old an iPad Mini and our 13 year-old a Galaxy Tablet for Christmas.  So our need for structuring safe and limited internet access for them has increased significantly from when they were just using one of our older laptops.  We’ve used Qustodio for the last year and have been pleased with how it monitors and secures usage on a laptop.  Using it on a tablet though is more tricky and easier for the kids to subvert.

Keeping this pressing need in mind, I was excited to see this gadget about halfway down the list:

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Wow!  This makes sense – we have controlled networks within every school containing only “approved” sites, so why can’t we create this within our homes?  I’d buy this device tomorrow if it could keep my 11 and 13 year-olds safe and also save me the hassle of looking at their devices for their histories, etc.

Rather than buying Kidokey now, the question is: Would I pledge a donation to make it a reality so that I and others can buy it later?

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I’d consider making this my first pledge on Kickstarter as it’s a gadget that would truly improve the lives of my kids and me.  Sadly, my donation alone won’t get them to their goal as they are $91,700 CAD short of what they need to start production.  Bummer.