On December 18, 2014

Social media success—Rutland H.S. kids get bullying app banned

Photo by Cristina Kumka

Sticky notes supporting the ban of the controversial  app, “After School,” cover the windows of the administrative offices at Rutland High School .

This time it was the kids in the classroom teaching the adults.

A controversial mobile application that was downloaded on some Rutland High School students’ phones and used to cyber bully peers is no longer available for download. Apple removed the controversial “After School” app from its App Store last week after a Rutland student movement made the issue national news by sending the message that bullying of any kind would not be tolerated.

RHS Prinicipal Bill Olsen described the postings as “obscene.” Some students said the language being used to describe other students was unbelievable and beyond anything they could imagine.

Before being pulled, the app was billed as “Funny Anonymous School News For Confessions & Compliments,” created by the company Ambient. The app had already been flagged as dangerous, pulled once before, then reposted for download with a warning.

But users continued to utilize the app to make multiple school shooting threats across various high schools, including a Detroit 17-year-old from who was arrested after threatening to make a school shooting bigger than Columbine, according to Business Insider magazine.

In Rutland, high school students were seen walking the halls crying one day and the school’s “Cyber You” social media activism club found out about the app. The club decided to do something about it right away.

“It was a wake up call. A lot of kids were mentioned on there…you were bound to see one of your friends,” said Cyber You co-president Gabriella Elnicki. Elnicki said the insults hit closest to home and “I was dumbfounded by some of the comments on there.”

They protested the old-fashioned way–getting students off their phones and putting paper and pen in front of them. The result was a multitude of powerful messages on Post-it notes, called the “Positive Post-it” project–an idea of principal Bill Olsen. Instead of hateful messages, the words “beautiful,” “love,” and other compliments were scribbled next to their peers’ names and posted all around school.

At the same time, Cyber You was circulating an online petition to ban the app from Apple’s store. It had received over 1,000 signatures in the first few days of posting it.

“To see how such a small community and a small school can make such a big difference around the country and the world is a big thing,” Elnicki said.  “It has created a huge positive impact on everyone and they (students) have changed their ways in a way.”

The state education secretary, state and national education associations and the Vermont governor took a stand against the app and with the students. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin issued a statement last week, saying he couldn’t have been more proud of the kids.

“Apple has removed from the App Store the controversial After School app, which has facilitated bullying in Vermont and other states, after an online petition started by Rutland High School students called on the company to do so. I’m so proud of these students for showing what young people can accomplish when they join together and do the right thing. By countering hateful words with kind ones, these students sent a clear message that bullying has no place in our schools. They showed that when young people stand up for what’s right, people listen.”

Kate Herlihy, guidance counselor and advisor to Cyber You, said the dream was for the app to come down but the movement is now something much bigger. “In a perfect world, we thought it would be great for the app to come down…and all of a sudden it just blew up,” she said.

Students got on the morning announcements and called on their fellow students to do the right thing.

“We want to keep the momentum going and continue the positive school support,” Herlihy said, mentioning the idea of spreading the anti-cyber bullying message to freshman classes as soon as they enter the high school.

Principal Olsen said, “It seems at least that these students had corporate America listening, as the students made clear how people should behave within a community. More importantly for our students, they saw that their actions had meaning. They listened to each other, and showed the whole school how to appreciate each individual member. When peers challenged peers, these young people rose to the occasion. It was a great lesson for adults here and now around the country.”

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