By: Guadalupe Lázaro
Many students in Boyle Heights remember the seemingly friendly smile of the owl character on the Ogle app, which took Boyle Heights schools by storm last spring. The app, however, was far from friendly, which brought about its recent takedown.
Ogle developers at first defended the app’s potential for serving as a school-wide forum and a way for students to receive help with homework. But, as the developers now admit, the app was often used to insult other students anonymously. Because of the many issues surrounding the app, users can no longer access any of its features even though it is still visible on the Android Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Daniel Jiang, CEO of the app’s parent company, Nuistars, Inc. of Mountain View, said in a September interview that the start-up company took Ogle down a few months ago because of all the issues surrounding it.
“We ran into difficulties because users were abusing it,” said Jiang. “We don’t have the resources to counter the abuse. We thought it was probably best to take it down because we didn’t find another solution.”
That’s a relief to administrators like Theodore Roosevelt High Principal Ben Gertner. “As a principal, this social media app was a disturbance not only for Roosevelt, but for the entire Boyle Heights community, because it affects the emotional health of students and their education,” he said.
Boyle Heights students, along with other young people across the country, embraced the Ogle app rapidly. In one week last spring at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, students had posted 3,000 times on the app. From the end of May to the beginning of June, there were 8,320 posts in the Roosevelt section of the app.
Students were glued to their phones to see the latest posts, and as new posts went up, more students were downloading the app. Many students were drawn in by the anonymous putting down of others.
Jennifer Valencia, a recent graduate of Roosevelt, said there were insults about “people I know at my school.” The comments affected her view of them and gave them reputations they might not deserve, she said.
Within weeks, all schools in the area saw their total posts grow from hundreds to thousands. Many were inappropriate, such as bullying remarks, topless photos, and copies of final exams. Fights broke out, and administrators had to deal with the aftermath.
At the end of the school year, someone at Bravo High School took a picture of a world history final and uploaded it on the Ogle App. Edith Ruedas, the history teacher whose test was posted, caught the offender.
Alina Garcia, a recent graduate of Mendez High School, said the app represented what is wrong with society as whole.
“It shows how people are cowards and hide behind the media and take advantage of the word ‘anonymous’ to say things they would not say in person,” she said. “It’s devastating to see what our upcoming generation has become.”
Ogle was easy to download, and users didn’t need to sign up or register. Once downloaded, the app asked to access the user’s location and camera through the phone. After permission was provided, a list of local high schools appeared on the main screen.
A user could anonymously post a picture about the person on whom he or she is trying to get feedback with the caption “thoughts” and wait for other users to comment. At Roosevelt, within a matter of minutes after a post appeared, an average of 20 comments would be posted.
Many comments aimed to cause harm. With seemingly no repercussions, students would write hateful slander on whoever was being talked about.
Ogle was similar to the app Yik Yak, which is also aimed for college campus use.
Lori Getz, founder of Cyber Education Consultants and an internet safety specialist, said anonymous apps lend themselves to bad behavior, which is one reason why apps like Instagram and Facebook require users to register.
“The viral nature of all of this is because there’s something about high school students and just students in general,” said Getz. She said some teens seem to enjoy “seeing others in pain.”
What students don’t understand, said Getz, is that nothing on the internet is actually anonymous. She points out that every electronic device is trackable and that police can get involved if a post involves a criminal act, such as a threat.
Posting nude photos can lead to charges of distribution of child pornography. A criminal conviction could mean the poster would have to register as a sex offender for life.
“The school would call the police. Then the police would access three different warrants: internet service provider, wifi network and physical location, in order to retrieve the device” and figure out who is responsible, said Getz.
Once students started to notice the intensity of the app, their interest slowly faded away. Many students from Roosevelt deleted the app after the administration threatened to confiscate phones. The app began to lose popularity at other schools as well.
Social media apps, no matter what intentions they may have, are ultimately in the hands of their users. They decide how they use an app, for better or for worse.
“The only way to reduce bullying in general is for the entire community not to put up with it,” Getz said. “When the community stands together, they have to decide we do not want to be a part of this.”
Boyle Heights Beat reporter Alex Medina contributed to this story.