August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Fleek College stories replaces ru.snapyak

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Tired of photos of weed bowls and videos of students peeing in bushes, Snapchat decided to try something new to combat accounts like ru.snapyak that were popping up at colleges across the country.

This semester, Snapchat launched a new feature called "Campus Story," permitting only appropriate photos and videos to be uploaded to the school's feed.

But the new feature has not stopped Rutgers students. Some have simply moved onto a different platform to share a more honest depiction of their nefarious weekend adventures.

Quick to replace last semester’s “ru.snapyak” is the app “Fleek - College Stories.”

The app is touted as “Your Unofficial Campus Story that WON’T GET BANNED by Snapchat,” which means students can freely post photos of lines of cocaine and bare buttocks for all to see, and the account will not be deleted.

The Rutgers Fleek account is named "Scarlet Knights" with a separate account, called "Rutgers Snaps X" for content containing nudity. The app is rated for ages 12 and up due to its suggestive themes, drug and alcohol use and profanity.

Similar to YikYak, users anonymously submit their own photos and videos and "upvote" and "downvote" others' photos.

But anonymity is not guaranteed, especially if Fleek was built quickly in an attempt to capitalize on Snapchat's cutdown of illegal activity.

"There are many apps which tell users that what they're doing is anonymous that turn out to provide a very low level of anonymity," said David Noll, an associate law professor at Rutgers Law School.

An example of this occurred in July, when the online website for extramarital affairs, Ashley Madison, was hacked by a group of dissatisfied users. The hackers leaked more than 30 gigabytes of customer and company data in one week. Two suicides were linked to the breach.

"If you think of Ashley Madison, everyone on that website thought that what they were doing was anonymous and they were in a zone where social expectations and rules didn't apply," Noll said.

Even if students are not creating an account with Fleek, the app is still collecting personal information. Fleek is logging data on where the user's phone is located and the user's IP address in order to develop user profiles and sell information to advertisers.

"Users of Fleek have no idea how secure or insecure the app is," Noll said. "... You have to wonder whether the app is susceptible to being hacked and whether photos and videos can remain anonymous."

In addition to security risks, the app also poses legal risks.

Posting illegal activities or photos that embarrass other members of the community is likely a violation of Rutgers policies governing the use of its computer networks. Users would then be subject to all of the potential consequences that could occur in a University disciplinary proceeding.

"It's theoretically possible that somebody at the University could notice you're using the app in a way that is inconsistent with the University guidelines and trace it back to a particular device," Noll said. "... The University can generally tell which person is using a particular device from its IP address."

One quick glance at the "Scarlet Knights" Fleek feed shows that students aren't only posting photos of themselves, but often of their friends as well. This also poses a legal risk.

"If your right to privacy is invaded, a plantiff can recover damages from the person who is responsible for doing that. You'd just have to figure out who actually posted the picture," Noll said.

A plantiff could also get a subpoena directed at the company Fleek and instruct the company to turn over the IP address of the person who posted a photo, which Noll said is "not that big of a deal" if a crime has clearly been committed.

Many states are now passing revenge porn laws, and New Jersey is one of the leading states in the country. Out of 13 states, Texas, Alaska and New Jersey are the three states that have passed very broad privacy laws encompassing revenge porn, according to The New Republic.

As students in New Jersey, taking a screenshot of someone's nude photos on Fleek and posting them elsewhere could fall under the category of "revenge porn" and lead to major consequences.

"If you post homemade porn with the intent to harm someone else, there can be severe penalties for that," Noll said.

Along with Rutgers, a long list of New Jersey colleges also have Fleek accounts, including Kean University, Montclair University and Rowan University.

Legal matters aside, the use of Fleek also has social impacts on the University.

With videos of boyfriends slapping their girlfriends butts and taking half-naked photos of them, students are glorifying the act of objectifying women, said Laura Luciano, director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children.

Fleek sends the message that sexual violence is "okay," she said. The app normalizes sexual violence and undermines the need for consent.

"Even taking pictures or videos of someone without their consent is part of sexual violence. Our social media reflects our community values, and when you have a site that's connected to Rutgers and you are posting things that go against our community standards, that becomes problematic," Luciano said. 

Avalon Zoppo

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