It's a school administrator's worst nightmare: technology used to help educate gets confused with a popular app kids are using to promote drug use, nude photos and hate speech. It used to be that leaving the porn websites unblocked was a bad move in family households; now teachers in Katy are asking parents to erase a message board app called Gaggle off their kids' phones.
This app has been causing problems around the country (we've seen reports from Arkansas to Connecticut, where it was reportedly brought up in a school board meeting along with the app Yik Yak.) in schools and on college campuses because it allows people to anonymously post photos with captions and share them to garner votes. It's not unlike a plethora of websites and apps that allow you to post photos with messages, but for some reason this app has soared with the type of young people who like to snap nude photos of themselves and take pictures of others with racist or bullying comments superimposed on the photo.
We took a stroll through the app on a Friday afternoon and saw a couple of things that gave us pause. The app uses location-based technology, so it serves up posts by people around you. We saw a few off-putting comments toward women, of the frat-guy variety. Some comments against black folks, like cooking them, and another about working at McDonald's. At least two photos referencing Nazis. Plenty of homophobic comments and images. And a photo of a littler person walking that referenced his sexual prowess.
We're not sure if it's the app's fault. The terms of service clearly state that they have "zero tolerance for objectionable content," which includes bullying, threats, stalking, harassment and other assorted fun stuff that's actionable in most states.
Parents are surely concerned. A peek at the reviews on Apple's App Store, where it's available, had a number of negative comments calling Gaggle "destructive" and "horrible." All the media buzz about it is bringing parents to the app in droves.
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"This app is being misused and is now causing chaos for so many people," reads one comment from yesterday. "This app has been ruining these poor children's lives and it needs to stop right away."
Seems like parents will be forced to keep a closer eye on their kids' app habits and what they download. Parenting -- the horror.
Here's the email Katy Independent School District sent out to parents today:
May 2, 2014
Dear Katy ISD Parents/Guardians,
Yesterday it was brought to our attention that students in multiple campuses across the District have been using a mobile app called Gaggle - Local Message Board in a negative way to post inappropriate messages and photos of students and staff members.
Please be assured this is not an app the District condones nor do we encourage this type of behavior on any type of social media outlet. Also, please note this is not the same app as the online learning platform currently used by many school districts, which is also called 'Gaggle'.
Consequently, the District immediately blocked the Gaggle - Local Message Board app, which features a penguin as its icon, from the public WiFi on all campuses as it is deemed inappropriate for student use.
Unfortunately, we cannot control what students do on their own cell data plans so we are asking all teachers and staff members to be vigilant about any conversations connected to this app and report to school administrators any inappropriate behavior surrounding this app.
We also want to remind parents to take this as an opportunity to educate their children on the proper use of mobile applications and social media sites.
In Katy ISD, we strive to provide a safe and secure learning environment and will continue to take a very cautious stance on any mobile apps or social media sites that could potentially compromise that.
Thank you for your continued support.