New app aimed at high school students raises concerns

SEATTLE -- It’s an app that claims to combat cyber-bullying and other threats, and its creators say they’ve seen more and more students in Seattle registering for it.

However, local parents and child experts worry the After School app comes with serious concerns.

Co-founder of the app, Cory Levy, describes it as a Twitter for specific schools. Levy said it's a new social media option for students, accessible to only those enrolled in high school.

"Users have told us that it gives them a freedom to express themselves;  they don’t have to worry about any repercussions or judgment," said Levy.

Levy reports tens of thousands of Seattle students are already using the app, which partners with a crisis textline to monitor troubling posts.

"If  you post a message on the app like, 'I’m really depressed right now, I’m not sure what to do with myself,' a pop-up will come up and we will provide you with 24-hour support with a live, trained crisis counselor," said Levy.

While Levy claims anonymity and limiting users to high schoolers will encourage teens to report bullying or threats, child expert Kim Estes, founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids, calls them troubling features.

"Their idea is to keep the creeps off, like predators, but it also keeps parents and administrators from monitoring what kids in school are posting," said Estes.

Estes believes the app’s claims might be easier said than done.

"The reality is that they also tout 2 (million) to 10 million users and there is no way that they have enough staff to monitor the posts that are being put on there at that rate to cover 2 to 10 million users," said Estes.

She says with any new app, there are unintended consequences. So the best advice she can give to parents is to research every app themselves.

"So it’s our job to question why are they downloading it," said Estes. "Does it look safe and appropriate for them? Even in our house, it happens and I’m constantly with multiple children in my house, checking things out and working it through."

Estes recommends parents download apps like Qustodio. She said it allows parents to monitor their children’s downloads.

In regards to concerns raised, the After School app creators say they are using advanced technology that detects key phrases in posts that signal cyber-bullying.

They also say they created in-app parental controls, giving parents an opportunity to monitor use and password-protect the app.