Ogle This! (Anti-Social Media App Arrives at the Edu-Mountain)
Why are Orange Batman, the protagonist, and Zebra Pony embroiled in a lonely war against poorly constructed evil robots? That’s a good question, and has everything to do with how I spent Friday, and the inherent Evil in certain apps available for pretty much all mobile devices.
There’s an app available now for free download from the iTunes store and from Google Play. The app is called “Ogle,” and is a “campus feed” where students can anonymously post photos, videos and text so everyone at a selected school can see it. The app allows users to comment on and “like” each others’ posts, participate in private or group chats, and send anonymous photos in chats for a limited number of seconds. When the app is downloaded, it automatically searches the geographic area for local schools’ feeds. So…to translate…the app knows where you are, via your phone’s GPS location, and finds schools nearby that you might be interested in posting to. Pretty much all high schools and colleges are in the app’s “back end database,” regardless of whether they wanted to participate or not.
Given the “anonymity” factor, it almost immediately degenerates into threats, hate speech, and online bullying. Arrests have been made for violent threats made on the app’s feeds in both March and April, and the app itself is working its way through the local consciousness of students.
It made its big splash at my school last week, peaking on Friday.
Let’s be direct…the app has in its “description” on the iTunes store that it is recommended for users to be ages 17 or higher, due to possible “intense sexual content and/or nudity.” That being said, it is a free download with no age verification, and has every high school in the United States in its database. think that through for just a moment. Freshman and sophomores, fully half the high school population, will be aged 14 through 16, by definition. The app is automatically marketing to an age bracket that it strongly suggests should not access it, for inappropriate content.
The Palo Alto based company’s website says the goal of Ogle is to “connect to your campus in a fun, creative way as you go about your day.” But that is not what students are using the app for. Some of the posts look like Facebook comments but a large majority are extremely offensive, bashing LGBT people, calling out girls as “sluts,” anything one would expect a high school student who can post anonymously would write. The supposed anonymity of the app makes most users rapidly go toward their least excellent intentions.
By the end of the day, students were coming to my classroom crying as a result of the inappropriate things posted on the app about them. Some had photographs on the app that warranted a police report, as every single person involved in the posting was a minor, and thus fell under the umbrella of the Protect Act of 2003. All in all, the app caused a fundamental disruption to the basic business of education.
On a more personal note, the idea of some of the things students told me were posted about them, both in terms of text and photographs, made my blood boil. I’m very fond of my students, and the idea that people were using the mask of anonymity to make them feel badly, or demean them in some way, was really upsetting. When a student’ written statement told of people coming up to them and commenting on things written on the app, as if they were automatically true, and the emotional distress that this caused, I was beyond angry.
The app is simply irresponsible in its construction and distribution. I am amazed that the iTunes store actually vetted it and made it available for download, with the capacity for illegal use and general antisocial usage that the basic design suggests. I’m more amazed that it has not yet been pulled or shut down by the same entity, Apple, which is supposed to be an “educationally friendly” tech provider.
It is not like this is a secret to Apple or Ogle, either. Last week, one particular post targeted Cerritos High School with a threat to school safety. This post caused Cerritos High School administrators and the Cerritos Sheriff’s Department to act swiftly before it was determined that the threat was a hoax. ABC District staff have been closely monitoring Ogle postings in response to recent events. The campus specific posts range in nature from harassment, bullying, sexual content, false statements, and threats. Further, a review of recent news articles from around the State of California, show that other school Districts (like mine, LAUSD) have scrambled to investigate specific Ogle posts considered to be unlawful due to the threatening nature of the content.
Importantly…Ogle users need to know that nothing posted on online is ever anonymous. While Ogle users have a sense of anonymity, behind the scenes Ogle is collecting device information from every post made to their site. This device information may be subpoenaed by law enforcement and tracked back to the account holders of a device in question. That’s how various arrests have been made with respect to threats through the app in the past month or so.
School districts in California have obviously not endorsed the Ogle app, nor have they granted Ogle the right or permission to use their schools’ names within Ogle application. The ABC District has made a written request to Ogle to delete all ABC school names. Ogle has not responded to the request. There is mounting legal discussion occurring within the education community against Ogle, and I can only imagine that there are more than a few of the kind of Cease and Desist letters being sent that would remove either schools, or whole districts from the database.
I know that I suggested as much from our district. At this point, I think that it has yet to happen, and I’m fairly certain that the other districts’ requests have been ignored by the parent company of the app.
Ah, yes…the parent company of the app. A small amount of internet research gives the information that one really need about that. The company, Nuistar, started in Newport Beach under the name Nuistars, Inc. They also have another app of similar design called HiveChat. Nuistars, Inc. current address is 1172 Castro St Mountain View, CA, 94040 and is a California Foreign Corporation, number 03795871. The Registered Agent Xiaohu Jiang.
What’s a “California Foreign Corporation”? Good question, True Believers. A corporate filing is called a “foreign filing” when an existing corporate entity files in a state other than the state they originally filed in. Nuistars, Inc. is also registered in Wilmington DE., as a domestic corporation. That’s why it’s a “California Foreign Filing”, see?
Still…inside California they had a previous address. Nuistars, Inc. former location was 660 Newport Center Dr. Newport Beach, CA.92660, number 03073788. The Registered Agent was Daniel Jiang, not Xiaohu Jiang.
Why all of that information? Why post it?
Feel free to let Nuistars know, or Apple know, that you think that the distribution of inappropriate material to minors is unacceptable. Students told me tales of a huge amount of material that was being distributed via the app that was beyond destructive to them. Racism, bigotry, bullying, even images that arguably should be removed as a result of Ogle’s supposed “content management.” Apple and Google Play could easily pull the app…they just need a reason to do so.
In my “best case scenario”, awareness of the damaging, unregulated app could result in a social media campaign, that would in turn either force content standards on it, and thus prevent my students from being so distressed, or the app being pulled. In order to do that, I need to do my part to put my little bit of the blogosphere on notice to gear up.
For my part…there are a few students who have been so intensively harassed via the app that I will be doing my best to follow up via school authorities and law enforcement today. Still, at this point, the cease and desist letters sent by district legal reps from other districts have not been answered or complied with…so a trending outcry on the internet might be just what the doctor ordered.
Free speech doesn’t have to be used to bully or harass. The original point of free speech was to allow us to overcome that kind of small mindedness. I’m hoping you, Gentle Readers, run with this and help an outcry about this to trend on Twitter, or otherwise surge through social media. That kind of pressure will definitely help to amend the situation.
I know at least one charming young lady who was heartbroken on Friday that would appreciate the support. Thanks.