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Who Is Behind After School, the Anonymous App Taking Over American High Schools?

Anonymous app After School is dealing with bullying, gun threats -- and massive growth.

Since launching their app in mid-November, the creators of After School, an anonymous social network for high school students, haven’t said a peep.

Their app, however, which allows high school students to post secrets and gossip anonymously to their classmates, has been anything but quiet.

Since launching three weeks ago, After School has been the subject of extreme scrutiny. One user in Michigan posted that he/she was bringing a gun to school, resulting in a police and FBI investigation (thankfully the threat wasn’t credible). A similar threat occurred this week in Ohio.

Multiple Detroit school districts have emailed parents warning them about the app, and another Michigan high school is petitioning to remove the app from the App Store all together.

The interest has been so strong that After School’s creators — Cory Levy and Michael Callahan of One, a San Francisco-based social media startup — are ready to answer some questions.

after-school-app

The duo is well aware of the bullying concerns voiced by school officials across the country. They’re receiving dozens of emails and hundred of tweets every day from parents, administrators and students complaining about the app. Still, Callahan admits the company doesn’t have a solution for the issue of bullying.

“Our job is to protect our users. … At this point we don’t have a 100 percent solution as to what that means,” Callahan told Re/code. “Our main goal is to remove the worst of the worst.”

This was the case during the Ohio gun threat, which set off the app’s automatic alert system at 2 am Monday morning. Callahan and Levy claim they called the local authorities and the school to report the post. During the Michigan threat, students alerted the school of the post before Levy and Callahan even heard about the threat.

The crux of the issue is After School’s unexpected popularity. Since launch, users from more than 14,000 different high schools across the country have already downloaded the app, says Levy. For comparison, there are roughly 24,500 public high schools in total in the United States.

More than 100,000 people have downloaded the app, and at peak times — right before school hours or immediately after — students are posting thousands of messages on After School every hour, he added.

Monitoring every post is frankly more than One can handle. The company has seven employees, and while it has a system monitoring for posts containing dangerous words — “cut,” “kill,” “bomb” — the general bullying common in high schools is slipping through the cracks.

So why not pull the app until the company is ready to handle the flow of content?

“Our best case scenario would be where, because of the fire under our butt, we come online with these features ASAP,” said Callahan, who said the company isn’t taking the option of pulling the app off the table. Ultimately, he hopes students will start to police themselves.

After School is hoping to avoid what happened to Yik Yak, another anonymous social network popular with college students. On Yik Yak, high school and middle school bullying got so bad the company implemented geo-fences that keep the app from working within school boundaries.

Callahan and Levy believe they can avoid that and provide a space for students to share gossip as well as important parts of their life they may be too shy or embarrassed to talk about otherwise.

“There’s so much going on in a high school,” said Callahan. “You have to lower the barriers associated with communication … a barrier inhibiting people from sharing is attaching their identity to things.”

Update: Apple contacted After School on Monday, requiring that the app update specific safety features before a Wednesday afternoon deadline, according to Levy. Included in those demands was a requirement to change the app’s rating to “17+” (it was previously at “12+”) and a requirement to add a report button within the app for inappropriate content.

After School made the changes and re-submitted the app Tuesday for approval, Levy says, but the app was not approved by the time Apple’s deadline for the changes arrived. After School was temporarily removed from the App Store, he added. The changes have since been approved, and the app was available once again on Thursday.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.