Fizz Should Go Flat

The Editorial Board emphasizes the dangers of Fizz — a new, anonymous social app — underscoring its questionable policies and the way it detracts from productive discourse on campus.

Last week, within 48 hours of its launch, a new social media app called Fizz took over the screens of the college’s students. The college-specific app, which was started in 2021 by Stanford drop-outs and requires a phone number and “.edu” email verification, allows users to post anonymously. You may have discovered it when you got a free donut from the paid student ambassadors tabling in Valentine Dining Hall. You might even be a student moderator, paid $500 a month to post upwards of 30 times a day and take down flagged posts. Even if you haven’t downloaded the app, you’ve likely felt the splash it has made on campus — for better or for worse.

Through lighthearted jokes about the inexplicable disappearance of Val’s cherished miso-marinated salmon or the complaints about the recent bouts of heavy snow, the app has created solidarity among our student body. Fizz undeniably does a good job at providing a space for Amherst-specific discourse. However, the ease with which that space has been misused and what it reveals about our community means that the negatives outweigh the positives.

The biggest danger of the app is precisely the reason why it is so popular and why it has been so effective in starting community discourse: its anonymity. Students can say what they want without fear of community retribution, which allows for users to bond over trivial matters without assuming responsibility for their comments, but it also means that students can quickly type offensive and potentially harmful messages and send them off within seconds without a single concern for backlash or consequences. At a small college like Amherst, anonymity is at once appealing and detrimental.

Anonymous platforms are nothing new, even to Amherst. Ranging from international to locally-based, they’re plentiful on the internet, including spaces like Reddit and Fizz’s somewhat disgraced and cyberbullying-ridden predecessor, YikYak. Anonymous intellectual discourse on our own campus was encouraged by the emergence of the controversy-sparking Contra in 2022, a  publication for writers to publish divisive opinions without their names.

The danger of anonymity on Fizz, like these platforms, is the lack of accountability for harmful and misinformed voices. In just its first dozen hours, the app was already flooded with troubling “Fizzes,” including posts calling out students by name, climate change denial, racist remarks, rampant hyper-sexualization of women, and body-shaming, among other harmful comments.  The risk of offensive content like this is exacerbated by Amherst’s comparatively small student body: Everyone knows each other, which makes calling someone out by name all the more harmful.

The harmful potential of Fizz, relative to the aforementioned platforms, is augmented by its lack of a consistent approach to privacy and content monitoring. The process for the deletion of a post usually first involves a report by a user and a review by a student moderator. There are two things which make this system flawed: the bias of the student moderators, who may have their own beliefs and personal ties to the community, and the potential for a post to cause harm before the moderator can respond to a report. The lack of a consistent, full-time, unbiased moderator staff means that harmful racist, sexist, homophobic, threatening, and/or violent posts can slip through the cracks.

Inconsistent moderation is emblematic of the company’s approach to safety concerns and  trustworthiness.  In 2021, student researchers at Stanford found that personally identifiable user information — names, emails, and more — was easily accessible to hackers. These researchers were later threatened by Fizz’s legal team. Privacy and data concerns are no small issue, and Fizz’s dismissal of this matter says a lot about its company values.

The most alarming aspect of  Fizz is not only its potential for serious harm to individuals but also the way it presents a striking reflection of the student body. Aside from the vulgarity and the cyberbullying, many posts also affirm serious, community-wide concerns about racism, sexism, homophobia, the administration, professors, rape culture, mental health, and more. While more community forums about these subjects are necessary, this app is not the right place for intentional and critical community engagement focused on real change. The eagerness with which students criticize campus life on Fizz seems at odds with the widespread lack of involvement the student body has with organizations like the Association of Amherst Students. Energy directed toward Fizz should be redirected toward these campus resources if students want to see change that actually benefits the community.

Fizz, at its best, is a poor attempt to fulfill a social desire for anonymous expression. But at its worst, it capitalizes off students’ instincts for drama and controversy, dividing rather than uniting. It’s better left uninstalled.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 17; dissenting: 4; abstaining: 0).