Ever hear of After School? Yik Yak? Whisper? Most likely, you haven’t. Why? Because these apps are targeted at your students – and they are anonymous.
Anonymous apps aren’t anything new. They can actually be tracked as far back as the days of AIM (anyone remember a/s/l?). However, with the advent of technology, these once online desktop-based services are now in the palms of our hands. Most concerning, they are targeting teens and students as they have seen them as an ideal and active audience for wanting to anonymously post to each other. Why? Well, it really boils down to two reasons: 1) students don’t want their parents or school administrators to see what they post. Even if it’s not “bad,” there’s a level of criticism they get whenever they post anything that might be in that grey area; 2) there’s an underlying need for teens to express themselves openly and sometimes that includes making comments about their own lives, which can be easier if it’s anonymous, but the dark side of that can be making comments about others, whether truthful or not. Even more concerning, there are literally dozens of these apps. Just check out Product Hunt’s list here. While the total number of these apps is large and more appear to be launching daily, I’ve profiled the three most popular apps:
The hottest social anonymous app on the market right now, After School is coining itself as an anonymous and private message board for your school. That’s right, this one is directly targeting your children and students. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune profiled the app and some of the serious concerns both users and parents are raising about it. According to its founders, more than 22,000 high school campuses have a message board and millions of students are using the app. The app allows students to post as themselves or anonymously to the message boards, which as you can imagine, has led to everything from inappropriate rumors to death threats. The service says it has features that flag these types of responses and calls the police. However, it’s enabling the actions to take place due to its availability of anonymity. Want to check out the app yourself? Good luck. The app uses Facebook’s personal information to determine if you go to a High School or not based on your profile.
The majority of us in the education space have heard of Yik Yak, which became popular in 2014. An app that allows its users to see anonymous comments based on where the users opened the app, the service pushes users to up-vote, down-vote, comment, and make their own posts (called ‘Yaks’.) However, the company made a decision to geo-fence every high school and middle school in America so that those students couldn’t use the app. The reasoning is that the app was originally targeted for college students, and due to increasing pressure from high school and middle school administrators, like seen in this CNN article, the app made the update. So, why should your school be afraid of Yik Yak today? Well, it’s only a matter of time before the app figures out a way to start making some serious money on college students and want to open its market back up to high schoolers or middle schoolers. As more and more of these apps hit the market and they become the norm, Yik Yak might deem it a good time to open its doors back up to everyone, especially when apps like After School are adding millions of users.
Whisper was one of the first anonymous apps to blow up in 2013. It even is backed by venture capitalists at the sum of some $50+ million. The app has millions of users and came on to the scene as a service for everyone, which allows you to post messages that get automatically paired with stock images to basically create a meme. The app quickly became adopted by college, university, and high school students. The app even has a school page profiling how you can find whispers just about your school. It says, “Once you have joined a School group, you will be able to post Whispers within that group.” So, like the others, it has an anonymous message board just for your school.
If you’re a parent or school faculty, it’s best to know about these apps, even though most have created ways to prevent you from accessing them. At the very least, you can have an educated conversation about them with your children or students.