School Officials, Police Aware of Issues with Social Media Site

There’s an app for that, and the supervising adults are keeping a close eye on it.

The After School social networking application raised concerns this past week. The app, available through the iTunes store, allows students to post anonymously on a message board.

The service made national headlines last week when a Michigan teen, Jacob Young, allegedly used it to post threats about “killing all the teachers.” Young, 17, was charged with making a terrorist threat, a 20-year felony, and with using a computer to commit a crime, another 20-year felony.

After School, “Funny Anonymous School News For Confessions and Compliments,” is a free app compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch operating systems of iOS 6.0 or later, according to the iTunes store. It’s described as an “anonymous and private message board for your school,” and users must use their Facebook accounts to verify they’re a student of a specific school before accessing its associated message board.

Glenn Ahrens, dean of students for Pinkerton Academy, wrote in an e-mail, “Pinkerton promotes considerate communication in all media, consistent with our motto of ‘Courtesy, Respect and Responsibility.’ Anonymous apps such as ‘After School’ can allow for misuse resulting in negativity toward others so it’s incumbent on parents, students, teachers and other role models to encourage students to treat each other thoughtfully and respectfully – especially on social media. We consider anything less both unfortunate and offensive.”

Bill Lonergan, one of the Associate Deans for freshmen, said there were two parts to the issue. “One is keeping the administration and staff aware of all these new ‘toys’ – there’s an educational piece for us,” he said.

When news of the After School app made headlines, Lonergan said, he and fellow staff members “got in quick” to warn students against it. He is aware of the program but has not had any students complain about being bullied on it or about inappropriate messages.

Lonergan said cyberbullying is a strong component of the Freshman program, with a  week and a half of the program’s core Freshman Academy devoted to the topic. The upperclassmen who serve as mentors are often able to dissuade freshmen from such activities, “and that’s cool,” he said.

Lonergan distinguished between one-on-one peer conflict between students and actual bullying or “mean kid stuff.” When two students have a conflict, the administration is often able to sit them down and have them discuss it, and shake hands at the end, he said. “The minute one of the kids makes an adult decision, it stops,” he said. But when their friends get involved, that’s when the bullying starts in a ripple effect.

The “drama and chaos” of adolescence doesn’t help, he added, saying, “The kids around them become the bullies, and it’s a dog chasing its tail.”

When he’s able to identify the alleged bullies and sit down with them, they are pretty quick to turn around, Lonergan said. “They do not want to hear that what they’re doing will be reported to the State of New Hampshire,” he said.

Lonergan also noted that cyber and other forms of bullying tend to decrease in the years from freshman to senior, as high school students get a sense of who they are and get involved in sports, clubs and programs such as Career and Technical Education (CTE).

There is still a challenge with reporting these incidents, he said, noting, “They don’t want to be known as a ‘snitch.’”

“There are great tools out there,” Lonergan said, “for being decent to each other.”

Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas compared the After School app to Yik Yak, another posting program. “The basis,” he said, “is that it allows people in a community to post messages to each other. It covers a certain geographical area.” The intent of the apps is to be like a bulletin board, Thomas said.

After several complaints, the administrators of Yik Yak added a mechanism to “lock” people out.

Truth is “not an element” in these programs, Thomas said, and they can be hurtful to students and disruptive to their education. For example, he said, “people get distracted and spend too much time looking at their phones to see what’s been posted about them. And if a child is being bullied, he or she may not come back to school.”

Using the app to share information about homework or after-school activities is not a problem, Thomas said. But some students have taken the program further than its intent.

The department is not doing anything specific about After School but will continue to be a resource for parents and educators and to provide Internet Safety seminars for the Derry Cooperative School District, Thomas said. “We talk about how to be good citizens on the Internet,” he said, noting, “Once something’s out there, it’s out there forever.”

Thomas encouraged both parents and teachers to have a conversation with students about appropriate Internet behavior. “The more adult action we see, the more likely this will be resolved,” he said.

Apple Computers removed the After School app from its App Store this past week for violating App Store guidelines for appropriate content. It was pulled Tuesday, Dec. 9, after violating the “personal attacks” and “objectionable content” categories of its guidelines.

In particular the guidelines prohibit the following:

• 14.1. Any App that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm’s way will be rejected.

• 16.1. Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected.

Last week app developer Cory Levy presented a new version to Apple that automatically removes flagged content from a user’s stream. The flagged content will be investigated within 24 hours, he said.

Students can open an account either through e-mail or a cell phone number.