“When there’s lack of information, you have the maximum amount of ignorance.”
— Michael Callahan, After School CEO and Co-Founder
Social media platforms have given anyone with an internet connection the ability to connect and share with the world. This ability to communicate freely brings with it opportunities and challenges.
“Communication in it’s purest form is the transmitting of information,” says Michael Callahan, co-founder and CEO of After School. The more information we have, the more we can grow and understand each other. Callahan believes that enabling new forms of communication is an effective way of changing the world for the better. “I believe one of the fundamental causes of (problems in society) is lack of information.” And while Callahan could help fight problems in society by sharing information, he felt that there was a bigger impact to be made by creating a platform where millions of people could share information.
“The number of things I can do with my two hands is very limited,” says Callahan. “If I could build these communication platforms that disseminate information to people where my own two hands would be limited in fixing these problems–now all of a sudden, all of these people and these communities could fix themselves. That’s a massive form of leveraging, and why I’ve devoted my life to communication.”
Callahan recently joined Larry Magid for an interview on the ConnectSafely podcast. Larry is the co-founder of ConnectSafely–a nonprofit dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy, and security. Last year, Larry wrote the Parent’s Guide to After School to help parents learn about the app and how to properly guide their children toward using the social network in a safe and positive manner.
In the hour-long interview, Larry and Michael talk about bullying, the power of communication, free speech and controversial speech, and After School.
They begin by discussing Michael’s start with communication-enabling technology. Michael started Ambien, which created a wireless neckband embedded with technology to help those with disabilities regain their ability to communicate with others.
Next, Callahan talked about how and why he and his co-founder Cory Levy worked on a college-based app to help people connect based on similar interests. In working on the product, ONE, Callahan and Levy saw several concerning trends, including teens being suspended and denied scholarships because of posts made on social media. Callahan saw this as an opportunity to create After School–an anonymous social network for teens to communicate openly and positively with their classmates. “If there’s a form of technology that’s causing trouble, you could sit on the sidelines and shake your finger at it, or you could get in there and do something about it.”
Creating an open communication platform where users can post without including their name, like After School, comes with its own set of challenges according to Callahan. “With the freedom of expression comes the responsibility to make sure that there’s no negativity–that you’re not causing harm.” After School incorporates proactive moderation to block negative content that violates Community Guidelines and allows users to report and remove content. “If we can take action on the negative part of content, what ends up being left mathematically is the positive part of content. If you have an ecosystem where positive content is in high volume and being championed, it will inspire other people to contribute positive content,” says Callahan.
Also on the podcast, Michael and Larry also discuss how things that are controversial, like how anonymous networks are considered today, soon become widely accepted as the norm. “There was a time when getting a tattoo would’ve been considered controversial,” says Larry. Michael notes that going through these transitions of accepting something as the new normal can be uncomfortable, but that we shouldn’t disregard what teens are incorporating into their lives. “Young people are the shepherds of what will be the new normal,” says Michael.
Listen to Larry Magid’s full interview with After School co-founder and CEO Michael Callahan here.