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Because Consequences Matter

Two Cents on the After School App

The After School app has been getting a lot of not-so-awesome attention lately. Basically, the anonymous social network that lets users “post confessions, funny experiences, compliments, and more!” (App Store description) has been criticized as a facilitator of bullying and other crap we just don’t need in the world. But perhaps equally troubling is the response from the developers:
“There’s so much going on in a high school. You have to lower the barriers associated with communication … a barrier inhibiting people from sharing is attaching their identity to things.” (Re/Code)
“Our job is to protect our users… At this point we don’t have a 100 percent solution as to what that means.” (Re/Code)
Attribution is a barrier to sharing? Seriously? There’s so much going on in a high school? Really? That’s why this app exists?
We call BS. This app exists to gain users and likely not much else. Why? Because it’s built on anonymity—a particularly dangerous model, especially for high schoolers. It’s just really, really, really hard to believe that this app was built to solve the “problem” of sharing barriers amongst high school kids. The app’s homepage doesn’t really leave you with that altruistic feeling:
Anyone who thinks that a tool that removes ownership from content is a good thing is lying to themselves and you. This is so on two levels: in real time and in who you are as a human being (and in this case, who you grow up to be). In real-time, anonymity makes it easier to hurt. (I can’t get in trouble if no one knows it was me!). You can even say it encourages hurtfulness. Longer term, that sort of mindset repeated over time will likely impact who an individual becomes and their decision-making. (Yeah I’ll leave a crude, semi-threatening comment on a blog post because no one knows who I really am.)
It’s either naive or calculated to build an app on the premise that you don’t have to stand behind what you say or share. If it’s naive, then lesson learned. (Bet they won’t pull the app though.) But if it’s calculated (By removing the consequences of being mean, we’ll get thousands of users that we can monetize somehow in the future!), then that’s just rotten in a world where there’s already enough rotten to deal with.
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