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Bullying drives districts to block new social media app

Students used anonymous message board to ridicule classmates and teachers

High schools in Connecticut and Texas have blocked a new social media app from school Wi-Fi servers after several reports of cyberbullying.

The app is called “Gaggle-Local Message Board” but is not associated with the Gaggle education platform. “Gaggle-Local” is a free, anonymous local bulletin board where people can post messages and pictures that others in proximity can view. The app company’s website describes its message board as “a fast, reliable way to share your thoughts, gossip and talk about things around you.” It can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play.

Administrators from Westport Public Schools in Connecticut and Katy ISD in Texas discovered that students were using the app to ridicule classmates and teachers. “Unfortunately, the students are posting extremely hateful speech, photos and drawings of students and staff members,” Principal Ted Vierling, of Katy ISD’s Seven Lakes High School, wrote in an email to parents. “The items I have seen have sickened and saddened me, and we need your help.”

Though district technology departments in both states can block the app from school Wi-Fi networks, students can still access it with their cell phones, says Katy ISD spokesperson Denisse Cantu. “Everything is done anonymously, so it’s impossible to track down whoever is posting things,” Cantu says.

Administrators asked all teachers and staff members to report any information they learn about the student postings. Vierling also asked parents to delete the app from their children’s phones, since “at this point, it has only done harm,” he wrote.

Complicating the matter is the fact that the app shares a name with Gaggle, the platform which is used in hundreds of schools nationwide. Teachers use the platform to communicate with students and to collect assignments. The platform company promotes student safety aggressively, says Rob Yoegel, Gaggle’s vice president of marketing.

“I’m appalled and disgusted at the blatant hijack of the Gaggle brand, which we have worked so hard to build over the past 15 years,” says Jeff Patterson, founder and CEO of Gaggle. “Regardless of the clear infringement on our brand and registered trademark, the people hurt the most are the students across the country who have been introduced to the local message board app.”

Gaggle sent a cease and desist letter to Factyle, publisher of the “Gaggle-Local Message Board,” on April 15. On May 6, Factyle’s lawyers acknowledged reciept of the letter. Gaggle executives are now consulting with attorneys and the Federal Trade Commission to determine the next legal steps, Patterson says.

The education platform’s customer service headquarters has received many phone calls from concerned consumers, Yoegel says. “We’re asking those folks to reach out to Apple, Google and the Federal Trade Commission,” Yoegel says. “It’s unfortunate that this app is out there and causing potential confusion in the marketplace and among administrators.”