Apps aiming redefine anonymous communication are popular among college students, and newcomer Unseen has received negative backlash from using campuses due to the nature of content prevalent on it.
Identified as “the hybrid of Snapchat and YikYak”, the app enables similar minded students to connect with each other via anonymous photo shares and texts. To use it, students take a photo via phone and post it to their respective college feeds with or without a caption. The posts can then be “voted up” or “voted down” and are subject to anonymous comments, writes Margaret Schroeder of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Its popularity has sharply risen since its July introduction at Texas A&M University, so much that company Bearch has created a waitlist for pending schools requiring addition. Since December 9th, about 200 schools have their own feed, with more than a thousand on the wait list, writes Courtney Such of The College Fix.
However, the app has been misused by college goers, with a typical school feed featuring posts of everyday college successes, but mostly littered with photos of girls sexually posing, boys seeking to hookup, illegal drugs, and racist, homophobic and derogatory comments. The app has also received scrutiny for amplifying harassment and bullying against individuals, fraternities and sororities. The app is also being misused by students seeking illegal substances and spy shots directed at affecting individuals’ reputation, writes Sarah Perez of Tech Crunch.
Unseen’s impact has prompted several anti-cyberbullying movements to terminate it, including a Twitter campaign by University of Texas-San Antonio student leaders and a hashtag initiative by the Panhellenic Council (#UTSAActualSororityMove) led by president Margo Perez. Perez wrote to The Fix:
“Many of our fraternity and sorority life leaders believe that Unseen is a destructive app that can be detrimental to university communities, especially fraternities and sororities.”
A recent case at Oklahoma State University where a posted photo of of a group of African-American female students dancing at a fundraising event for the Susan G. Komen organization sparked derogatory racist comments brought to attention to the app founders the need for stronger regulation of content.
An open letter was published to Oklahoma State regarding the incident, promising an updated system with more content moderation. The company is also participating in an open dialogue with administration and student groups to come up with a solution to the problem.
Michael Schramm, Unseen co-founder and CEO, stated that current regulatory measures of the app included discreet censorship of photos that violated guidelines and end-to-end encryption and ephemeral messaging preventing users from sharing personal information in chat.
“We have teams dedicated 24/7 to both reviewing and moderating content that is created or flagged by users.”
The CEO also mentioned that the company had not been confronted by any school regarding the app’s impact and, despite its negative feedback, Unseen can still be employed as a tool to enhance campus experience.
“Regardless of race, religion, opinion, beliefs, we want to be an open platform that is truly open and truly secure in a way that can unite people and create discussion that you may not have otherwise seen before.”
He also claimed that the app had also fulfilled his intended purposes, such as providing support for depressed individuals and being used by student leaders to promote diversity and other strong messages.