Approximately a thousand students downloaded Fizz, a college-specific social media platform that allows users to post anonymously, last Thursday, Feb. 23, amid a company-sponsored marketing blitz involving bucket hats and donuts on the app’s launch day.
In its brief existence at Amherst, the app has already sparked controversy, with some raising concerns about the prevalence of offensive content, moderation of the posts by students, and the company’s data privacy practices.
A five-minute scroll on Fizz yields posts about laundry room decorum, “Val crushes,” hopes for a snow day, social politics from the weekend’s activities, and a vast amount of media regarding time spent in the Science Center bathrooms.
Fizz, formerly called Buzz, was founded by Stanford dropouts Teddy Solomon and Ashton Cofer in the summer of 2021 in order to foster campus connection during the pandemic. Its goal, Solomon said in an interview with TechCrunch, is to expand to 1,000 campuses by the end of this year. Fizz has raised $12 million so far from investors, generating $4.5 million through its most recent funding round in June.
The app allows students to post memes, events, polls, and confessions — all anonymously.
Ona Ortiz-Gudeman ’26 said that when she was mentioned on the app, she “thought it was funny. I automatically assumed it was one of my friends making a joke. If someone I didn’t know were to say that to me in person, I would be pretty uncomfortable, though.”
Ortiz-Gudeman added that “the veil provided by anonymity enables people to post really harmful things without fear of repercussions.”
The rise of Fizz generated unease within the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Senate, wrote Ankit Sayed ’24, vice president, in a statement to The Student.
“Our concerns are that Fizz may be a place for inappropriate, disrespectful, and abhorrent comments about students, staff members, and sensitive topics on campus such as sexual violence,” Sayed wrote. “Anonymity turns what has always been possible with campus speech into an inevitability.”
The array of anonymous posts fall into three tabs: New, Fizzin’ (what’s trending), and Top (the most upvoted posts of the day, week and all time). Popular posts from users at the college frequently garner over 600 upvotes.
George Cahill ’26, who served as one of many Fizz ambassadors during launch day, said that he has friendly competitions with friends to see who has the most “karma,” or amount of net upvotes in response to their posts.
“Some people’s goals are to keep racking up upvotes, which feeds into potentially more controversial posts,” Cahill said. “Some people might gain more confidence from [the fame] and become more bold.”
Fizz requires a verified college email address to join, limiting admission to its forum. This is different from its main competitor, YikYak, which draws from a five-mile radius. Fizz also employs 15 student moderators, who have the power to remove posts they deem inappropriate, in order to prevent offensive content from spreading.
“The uniqueness of the platform comes from it being hyperlocal and specific to Amherst, which is a very small school with intricate social dynamics at play,” said a moderator, who elected to remain anonymous.
Moderators were recruited via LinkedIn, and attended training sessions to prepare them for their roles, including as facilitators and content creators — moderators are required to upload 30 to 40 posts a day, with some flexibility. As moderators, they respond to reported posts and take down posts themselves if they violate guidelines. Violations include personally identifiable negative information, personally-targeted posts with substantial downvotes, and any “prejudice based on race, class, age, ethnicity, body type, gender, or sexual orientation,” according to the app.
“We won’t tolerate racist, intolerant, or bigoted content,” the moderator said.
However, students have generated concern regarding the subjectivity of moderators.
“Because the moderators are other students, there’s definitely a bias with regards to what gets deleted and what is allowed to stay up,” said Ortiz-Gudeman.“Even if something harmful eventually gets deleted, it still gets seen by many people. Screenshots can spread it even further.”
AAS hopes to speak to the app’s executive team to understand how campus moderators are chosen, and what abilities they have, Sayed wrote.
“We want to improve moderation going forward. It is too soon to say exactly what that looks like, whether elected moderators or a larger blanket ban on certain topics or directly naming individuals, but we hope that we as student government and the Fizz team can come to a mutually beneficial solution,” Sayed wrote. “There will always be a place for free, anonymous speech, but it must be balanced by a commitment to preventing harm.”
Beyond the core group of moderators, other students were contacted through LinkedIn and Instagram to join a campus ambassador program, consisting of recruiting peers, attending training, posting about the app, and tabling around campus on launch day.
Cahill learned about Fizz through a teammate, and saw the ambassador role as an opportunity to do something fun and rewarding.
“It’s a fun way to connect with people around campus and the motivation was to give me something to do,” Cahill said. “I didn’t have a ton of homework and I wanted to make a few bucks.”
The moderator said that it “felt like a good financial opportunity to generate some cash flow,” and added that they were set to be paid $500 per month, indefinitely.
Beyond worries regarding the platform’s content, the app has also been the subject of controversy in terms of its privacy protection.
In November 2021, three Stanford students discovered that they could access the app’s database to identify the author of any post, along with personal information like phone numbers and email addresses. The database was also editable, so anyone could change posts or moderator status.
The moderator said that they were briefed on this case, as well as Fizz’s response. Now, users’ personally identifiable information is stored in a separate database, only accessible by Fizz administrators.
“I definitely believe that there should be concerns about data and privacy,” Ortiz-Gudeman said. “I still think that most college students would rather get a cheap laugh from online meme than worry about data.”
Ortiz-Gudeman said she sees the app’s effects as temporary.
“Once the excitement and newness of [Fizz] ends, campus culture will revert to normal,” Ortiz-Gudeman said.