After School Safety: The Steps We’re Taking to Protect Our Community
While creating anonymous posting app After School, we knew iterations and changes would need to be made along the way. As with any social platform, you learn from your users, iterate quickly, and grow with the community. What we didn’t expect, was that four weeks after the release we would already have a loyal group of hundreds of thousands of highly engaged users across 50% of all high schools in the U.S. The community developed quickly — as did backlash from the media due to stories of threats and cyber-bullying.
Our goal is to allow students to talk about the issues that are actually important to them in a format that they enjoy, can relate to, and understand. We felt they couldn’t do this in existing forums because of judgment from peers, parents, and teachers. Because of that, we knew our app would have to make use of anonymity and humor to allow students to feel comfortable discussing real issues. Overall, the impact has been very positive.
The things the community have shared with each other include:
● Emotional support: reaching out to others for help regarding issues like abuse, depression, LGBT, as well as many others
● Love: confessing about their life-long crushes they would have been too shy to voice publicly
● Being nice: anonymously complimenting one another
● Humor: sharing funny stories, observations, and relatable experiences
With the openness that the app offers for people to communicate, some people misused the app. They created posts that hit in areas outside of the intent of the application including inappropriate content, meanness and threats of violence.
We took a giant step back and looked at what we were trying to accomplish versus what was currently happening. Using a sentiment analysis, we reviewed the millions of posts on the app, and discovered that despite the criticism and concerns, the number of positive posts outweighed the negative 79% to 21%. While this isn’t nearly the positive impact we set out to make, it gave us hope that with continued improvement, we can provide an open, equal and safe anonymous platform for students.
We needed to improve, and fast. We immediately started conducting interviews, meetings, focus groups, and plugging away at creating new and innovative solutions to many of the problems we faced in the first version of After School. We formed new partnerships, developed one-of-a-kind technology and clarified our direction of how to aid our community in supporting each other and preventing cyberbullying.
The entire team has stepped up to the challenge and we have been working tirelessly to improve After School. After several months of thorough planning and development, we are excited to share with the world the progress we’ve made.
These changes aren’t just an improvement for After School, they’re improvements to the way we communicate using social media.
The following changes have been implemented in the latest version of After School:
- 24/7 Live Chat popup for at-risk users using advanced detection.
- Launched FIRST (Nationwide First Responder System). A state of the art response system that contacts local authorities and school administrators if a potential threat is detected
- 24/7 monitoring. Every post around the clock will be reviewed by a human
- Educational materials for parents
- Community guidelines alert upon registration. Every user will now be presented with app guidelines
- Report mechanism. Users are given the opportunity to report inappropriate content
- Created a Parental Review Board made up of parents across the US
- Reporting system for parents
- Local image filtering for gifs
- Massive image filtering and tagging
- Robust automatic post flagging for inappropriate words
- Personalized filters which allow users to select their exposure to mature content
- Age verification. In order to see mature content, users will be required to verify their age using driver’s licenses to confirm
- Social Media Safety Board
After School has created an active safety board with experts and community leaders that will help us with issues including cyber bullying, suicide prevention, mental health, and sexual orientations. Some of our board members include:
David Zhao, Co-Founder of “End to Cyber Bullying”
Dr. Jay Banks, Educator/entertainer with a Ph.D. in Education-Professional Studies in Education and author of the “I Am Unafraid” anti-bullying series and school presentation
David D. Luxton, PhD., Department of Defense, Using Technology to Prevent Suicide
Robin Kowalski, PhD., Author and Psychology Researcher, Cyber Bullying Expert
Our hope is that these steps will not only improve the experience and well-being of our users, but will set a precedent to open up a larger discussion about how to improve forms of communication while providing a positive and safe environment for users.
The After School Team