After School is back and ready to try again. The mission is the same: Give teens a safe but anonymous place to talk to high school classmates. After several months of retooling the app just relaunched on the App Store and, even with the aggressive safety features in place, growth hasn’t slowed down.
When After School hit the App Store in October 2014, it immediately sparked outrage as teens took to the platform and anonymously posted derogatory and hateful content without fear of repercussion (or so they thought). But the creators didn’t give in to the immense pressure to shut down the app or change course.
The app’s creator Cory Levy tells TechCrunch that After School was designed to give high school kids a place to publish thoughts without a fear that a parent or relative will see the content. As he points out, the kids that are in high school right now were four years old when Facebook launched. They grew up alongside social media and now have to live in a world where their grandparents are on Facebook. After School, like Yik Yak before it, aims to provide an anonymous place to post thoughts to those in the same geographical region.
In older versions a few teens took things too far. Now the app is chock full of safety features and Levy says there is zero tolerance for hateful content.
Among other safeguards, the new version of the app adds a human safety layer. Every post on the social network is reviewed by a member of the After School staff before it’s published. Levy says the startup has 15 employees dedicated to this task around the clock and it usually takes less than a minute for a post to be approved. This After School staff member also adds one of six tags to a post, some of which triggers additional actions.
For instance, if the After School reviewer notices that a member posts a dire message indicating possible self-harm, the app will immediately ask the user if they would like to chat with someone. The goal is to get help to this person as quick as possible.
The app also allows parents to set passwords and restrict content. Even users can restrict content themselves. Profanity is restricted to those over 17 and age is verified by showing the app a valid ID (Levy says none of that information is stored).
Levy sees a future where technology will help the company scale and assist in monitoring. It would be more than just keyword filtering, he says, adding that the current process is a proactive approach.
Even with all these new safeguards in place, Levy tells me growth exploded, suggesting that After School’s users dig the social network more for being a safe haven than a place to exploit anonymity. After launching the latest version on April 7th, After School went from being in half of the high schools in America to two-thirds. There are now 250,000 registered teenagers on the app. Levy says most of the growth has been organic as users are taking to traditional social media sites to spread the word.
After School launched as a place to allow high school students to post anonymous messages when not at school. And through controversy, the company has stuck to that goal instead of pivoting to something easier. That’s a lesson hopefully apparent to its target demographic.