If someone said they found a solution to prevent bullying on social media, while maintaining a platform with light gossip and good-natured school rival trash talk that teenagers might actually use, that developer would be a hero.
SmackHigh, which announced on Wednesday it has raised $1.65 million in seed funding, claims it can reduce bullying by creating an online community for high school students in which submissions are monitored and posted by SmackHigh representatives.
With more than 7,000 brand ambassadors in 26 states, the high school volunteers filter the anonymous submissions and post items on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram that are not offensive. Each community has its own Twitter handle, and the Massachusetts account has more than 91,000 followers.
There is always the possibility of human error, but chief executive and co-founder Giuseppe Stuto believes his company’s set of guidelines has created a foundation for avoiding the bullying, harassment, and racism commonly found online.
He said teenagers want a balance between complete anonymity and Facebook, where users post their entire life story.
“Privacy is important to teenagers, which is why these anonymous networks took off,” said Stuto, a Boston University graduate. “At the same time, they also enjoy a sense of empowerment, notoriety, and things of that nature relative to their community. We are taking elements of both and are finding the right balance.”
Other social media platforms provide anonymity, but have become a destination for bullying and racist posts. As hacking becomes a greater concern, companies that have grown at rapid pace struggle to maintain the original purpose of avoiding attaching a name with a post.
Yik Yak, founded in 2013, became quite popular among high school and college students to find parties within a five-mile radius. But after some users bullied peers and posted racists comments, college campus police began to use the app in criminal investigations.
Reddit, a news website where users post content, blocked two users from Russia and Germany for comments that violated local law, according to a company post on Aug. 14. Reddit said it reserves the right to restrict content.
Whisper, however, has found more success than other platforms as users confess secrets without a name attached. Started in 2012, the app has 10 million active monthly users, according to Business Insider.
Stuto said SmackHigh, a 2015 Techstars company, is different from other anonymous platforms because of the community emphasis. As a mentor to high school freshmen in Brighton in 2013 through the BUILD program, he realized there was nothing connecting teenagers from one school to another. He sought to create a platform where teenagers can feel at home, while consuming content that matters to them.
“We are going to be proactive. We believe in a community. We believe in these teens,” he said. “We work very hard in keeping a dynamic set of community guidelines by making sure we empower these teens to keep the community moderated.”
When SmackHigh was starting out, high schoolers submitted negative posts that included names of classmates. When the brand ambassadors blocked them from public view, users got the message and censored themselves. Submissions with names are posted when they are positive and uplifting.
SmackHigh’s initial funding is from FlyBridge Capital Partners, Boston Seed Capital, and investor Wayne Chang. The company plans to use the money to increase the number of SmackHigh teen moderators, to expand its geographic reach, and to fund technical development.