CAMDEN — It is promoted as “an anonymous and private message board for your school.” But, the app known as “After School” can inadvertently lead to undue fear and panic when comments are made and shared.
The app allows students to pick what district they attend, and verifies they are a student using Facebook.
The Washington Post, in December, reported “millions of teenagers in high schools nationwide are using a smartphone app to anonymously share their deepest anxieties, secret crushes, vulgar assessments of their classmates and even violent threats, all without adults being able to look in.”
In December, according to the report, the After School app was already on more than 22,000 high school campuses across the country.
The app’s developers advertise that students can “post confessions, funny experiences, compliments, feelings and more.” And they say they “have a zero-tolerance policy against cyber-bullying.”
As with any social media site, however, comments can create situations that aren’t intended.
Last week, Preble County Sheriff’s officials got involved after rumors of a possible threat of a school shooting, possibly on Thursday, April 28, began to spread at Preble Shawnee Junior/Senior High School.
Many Shawnee parents kept their students home last Thursday, after the supposed threat spread through social media and other discussions.
According to Sheriff Mike Simpson, the fear began with a post on the After School app.
The concern came when a student notified Preble Shawnee staff of a discussion regarding adults who were going to stage a public show of support outside the school for Greg Stacy, a teacher whose employment the school’s board of education voted last month to terminate based upon allegations of misconduct.
A student had posted something like “Have you heard what’s happening Thursday?” in reference to the planned public assembly for supporting Stacy, Simpson said.
The response that started the talk of a threat was: “I heard a shooting,” Simpson said.
“It wasn’t a direct threat,” Simpson pointed out, just a comment on the discussion, which the PCSO was advised of on Wednesday.
“In an abundance of caution, we had people down there on Thursday,” Simpson said. He said sheriff’s officials were at the school off and on all day Thursday.
The After School app developers say they have an “emergency notification system” which immediately alerts school officials and law enforcement when student safety in in question. According to Common Sense Media, a group which researches and rates such programs for “kids, families and schools,” “The app was removed from the app store after complaints from school administrators about bullying incidents and has since been updated with moderation and tighter age-verification. A live moderator reviews every post and tags each with the type of content it contains. Teens 13 and up can register, but to see posts tagged with ‘sex,’ ‘drugs,’ ‘profanity,’ or ‘gross,’ teens must verify they’re over 17 by scanning the code on their ID cards.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.