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Sidechat wants to be the main chat for college students

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Harvard Junior Yousuf Bakshi remembered lining up at El Jefe’s Taqueria at 2:00 am in Cambridge, Massachusetts to get a late-night treat after a recent night out. Bakshi, 20, couldn’t help noticing that almost everyone in front of him was using his phone and everyone was scrolling through the same app, Sidechat.

“This is an easy place to see all the jokes and gossip, and it really helps to nurture a lot of the town’s buzz,” Bakshi said of the app on the Netflix series “Bridgerton” Lady Whistledown gossip. I said it in comparison with the column.

In recent months, Sidedechat, a hot new app that allows users to log in with college-related email addresses and write anonymous posts that are only visible within the school community, has been launched by universities such as Harvard, Cornell, Tufts, and Colombia. Increased downloads with. Campus newspapers are recording the rapid growth of the app. In March, Cornell Daily Sun wrote, “This app quickly became a feature of Cornell’s social life.” In April, Harvard Crimson reported that side chat “is sweeping the campus.”

The assumptions aren’t new, but they are appealing to many students. It’s an opportunity to chat with your peers about what’s happening on campus, without giving them a name. Posts will be published without prior approval and will only be deleted later if the message is deemed to violate platform guidelines. Some students find the secret to be harmless fun, while others seem to be bolded by anonymity and post harsh and harmful comments, as is common online. To do. Now, many students who are already fed up with past experiences on similar platforms say they are sour in Sidechat, but they are still signed on.

“It’s fun to post memes and related things without revealing your identity,” Bakshi said.

The founder of Sidechat remains anonymous. The company’s representative, who did not reveal his name, said the founders would not comment on this article. Representatives also declined to answer emailed questions, such as the number of schools currently operating. Approximately 12 student ambassadors contacted about this article either declined the interview or did not respond to requests for comment.

For years, students have flocked to anonymous confession pages on Facebook and Instagram (for example, Harvard Confession and Tufts Secret), where they submitted posts for approval and posting by moderators.

Formspring became popular in the early 2010s to allow users to post questions and answers without having to identify themselves. It quickly became full of cyberbullying, posting threats and harmful comments aimed at other teenage users. The site was shut down in 2013 when the CEO announced that maintenance costs became unbearable.

Last year, Yik Yak shut down in 2017 and then restarted. The app went wild with malicious language and harassment, and some universities banned access to Wi-Fi networks.

Ysabel Gerard, a social media researcher at the University of Sheffield, said: “They are much larger and faster to attract the user base than the founders expected, and the staff are not ready for content moderation of the required scale.”

But the speed of growth of these platforms, and the controversy surrounding them, could be part of the appeal, she added. “It’s common for teens to download new apps in the hope that they’ll be safer than the old ones,” she said.

Rabiya Ismail, a 22-year-old student at Tufts University, said she downloaded Sidechat after seeing another student promoting the app on a Facebook group in her class. “It started with fun,” she said. “People were joking about the campus and posting memes.”

But just a few weeks later, after seeing the app flooded with nasty posts, Ismail removed it. “We have a lot of xenophobic and racist comments,” she said. She always says, “Well, I’m sorry you’re poor,” when low-income students complain about campus wealth. “

After Tufts University announced last month that the university would require students to wear masks until the end of the final exam season, the app was flooded with posts that looked down on students with health problems.

“There was a post saying’I hope people with weakened immunity are now infected with Covid’and got a lot of votes before it was removed,” Ismail said.

She didn’t want to miss the positive aspects of campus life promoted by Sidechat, so she finally re-downloaded Sidechat. “Recently, Elizabeth Warren was randomly on our campus, and someone posted that she was in the campus center, and that made people talk,” Ismail said.

Nicholas Gray, 20, a freshman at Cornell University, said his biggest complaint about the app was how it was moderated. In his experience, many posts are “moderated in a superficial way,” he said, because moderators can be students.

Harvard, Colombia and Tufts did not respond to requests for comment, and representatives of Brown University and Cornell said the school was not affiliated with SideChat.

“This is a third-party app with no college involvement,” said Brown University spokesman Bryan Clark. “The dynamics of the online community are, of course, complex, especially when anonymity is part of the equation.”

The students said the app felt as if it had become popular overnight. Christine Mellies, 20, a sophomore at Barnard College in Manhattan, affiliated with Columbia University, said one day, out of nowhere, some of her colleagues posted about it in an Instagram article. I said I saw it. She noticed people setting up a table to promote the app in the quad, and an email to all her soloities that the group could earn $ 3 from Sidechat to all members who downloaded it. It has been sent.

An email reviewed by The New York Times explained that the app would be a promoter “basically like Yik Yak in Colombia only.”

Proposals for school-specific experiences seem to be at the heart of Sidechat’s marketing pitch. Student ambassadors are participating to give the app campus credibility. Individual Instagram accounts sell apps using internal jokes that are unique to each university. Even the interface of the app is different for each user, reflecting the school color of the student who is accessing it.

Brown’s freshman, Ty Kerius Monford, worked as an ambassador for Sidechat. Monford, 19, said the president of his club is looking for a student contractor to work with Sidechat and help them get it on track. He said he knew the opportunity.

“Brown has a pretty big startup culture and I wanted to get involved that way,” he said. He said he helped spread information about the app on social media and posted some posts in side chat to fill the feed.

Amina Salahou, a 19-year-old freshman at Harvard University, said she received $ 20 for posting about Sidechat on Instagram. She also spent a day promoting the app on her campus and earned $ 20 an hour. In just one day, Salahou added that she and other students promoting her on-site had 700 people download Sidechat by offering cookies.

She said she had heard about this opportunity from a friend who was involved in the release and now enjoys using the app as a way to keep up with what her colleagues are talking about.

“My friends and I no longer share memes in group chat,” she said. “We all just go to side chat.”