Not so long ago, anonymous messaging apps were among the most popular available. Secret, Whisper, and Yik Yak were atop the download charts in both app stores. Then, something happened. Secret shut down, Whisper rapidly declined in quality; only Yik Yak remains strong, but is often filled with the lowest forms of vitriol. However, one anonymous messaging app – After School – seems to be reviving the category. In a nutshell, the app acts as a private, anonymous message board.
There are a number of different reasons for After School’s rise, but the company’s intense focus on safety is the most influential. In late 2014, the company released a test version of the After School app, and it exploded in popularity. Within two weeks, the app was in 50% of U.S. high schools.1 According to the company, the initial results were a mixed bag, with messages and posts ranging from, “crush confessions to posts about tough situations teens have been faced with; including rape, sexual orientation, bullying, physical and emotional abuse, incest, and thoughts of committing suicide.”2 The company’s CEO, Michael Callahan, noted the team’s feelings during the initial release:
For a couple of weeks, I would wake up with my heart pounding from a shot of adrenaline as I reached for my phone. Each morning, we would be faced with a new problem created by something a student had posted. A teacher was arrested for having sex with a student, a bomb threat was made which we immediately reported to the police, and the media wanted to know what we were going to do next.3
From that point, perhaps heightened after a four month ban from the App Store, After School made a major push to make the app as safe as possible. This push included more than a dozen safety features, including:
- A robust age verification process, utilizing drivers licenses while maintaining anonymity
- 24/7 Text Helpline popup for at-risk users using advanced detection and partnerships with trained counseling help.
- 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 Moderation: Every single post goes through proactive moderation, and posts that are viewed on a school’s feed are first viewed by a human moderator.
- Report mechanism. Users are given the opportunity to report inappropriate content. One report immediately removes a post from the feed of a school.
- Zero-tolerance policy against cyberbullying, including the banning and blocking of users who violate it.
- Parental Review Board made up of parents across the US was created.4
This focus on safety has paid off for the company. On 3 February 2016, After School announced that they had raised a $16.4 million Series A round.5 Perhaps we were too quick in assuming that anonymous messaging was dead.