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New Anonymous Teens-Only App Has Parents Panicking

After School is a place where teens can spill their darkest secrets - and parents are terrified

Dec 09, 2015 at 1:47 PM ET

High schoolers have found a new way to reveal their deepest darkest thoughts without giving up their full identities. After School, an app with over 2,200 reviews so far, has quickly become a home for One Direction fan babble, who’s-dating-who myths, and other young person chatter by focusing on allowing only teens to log on. It’s Facebook-meets-tinder, a mindless way to quickly find people in your vicinity and shout your opinions at them from the safety of distance. But unlike other anonymous apps like Yik Yak, Secret and Whisper, After School locks out anybody who can’t prove they’re a teen. 

How does that work? After downloading from the app store, a tasteful initial verification screen featuring a woman’s sensual bikini-clad body with the head of a tiger wearing shades, asks you which of the 22,300 high schools in their database you attend. A login prompts appears, pulling your educational information from your Facebook profile to make sure you go to school where you say you go. If you don’t, you’re denied access to the app. Nosy moms and dads are SOL and fuming. 

 

A parent-free zone can be a freeing space for teens figuring out who they are; Secret and even pseudonymous social platform Tumblr have enormous popularity in the LGBT and sexual assault survivor communities – all secrets teens aren’t necessarily willing to share with their parents but do want to tell a random stranger with similar experiences and a kind ear. But with anonymity comes bullying, a prevalent behavior in teen circles both real and virtual. This is making parents extremely nervous about what their teens are saying, and who they’re talking to on After School— the same “cloak of anonymity” that allows After School users to share and connect over private thoughts also allows for sexual jokes, cruel accusations and offline taunting. And since After School is so brand new that most adults haven’t even heard of it yet, there’s slim-to-no chance of running into a catfish account, or having it ruined by the presence of reporters and other rubberneckers attaching themselves to youth culture: After School is for kids, by kids – for the moment.

Of course, earnest teens will always take the opportunity to share parts of who they want people to think they are; Instagram hashtags and the popularity of karaoke apps highlight this need particularly well. But is it up to the app to police their behavior? Earlier this year, Yik Yak was the target of an internet mob for crude and abusive language appearing in its threads published by college-aged users. Like After School, Yik Yak focuses on location, which makes identifying and targeting bullying victims too easy, with students chattering over “which girl has the biggest boobs or which girl has the worst mustache,” according to a May feature in Wired.  But as far as protection goes, there’s not much parents can do; apps like After School and Yik Yak emphasize that they will not name abusive users without a subpoena

The good news is that this is the internet and our attention spans only last a couple days. If history is any suggestion of what’s to come, before long, After School will likely go the way of Secret, the image friendly secret-telling app that had a glorious but brief lifespan until it was shuttered after the CEO felt that it had endemically gone in a direction other than the one he envisioned for the mobile confessional.

While the trouble and potential legal problems brought on by anonymous chat apps seems like a newfangled problem of the internet age, kids have been cruel to each other since the dawn of time. The internet being what it is, they’re already showing signs of moving on to shopping apps like Depop, and music communities like Musical.ly, where they can torment each other over clothes they can’t afford and their singing voices.