Toxicity festers on Fizz since launch 

By Amethyst Martinez

Initially seen as a way for people to connect on campus, Fizz, a new social media app where students can discuss university-related topics anonymously, has harbored a space for toxicity and negativity, according to past moderators and users. 

The site first appeared on Rider’s campus last semester through flyers slid under dorm doors, on the social media of Rider students, in LinkedIn direct messages and various other ways. 

Posts reviewed by The Rider News on Fizz’s app showed a stark reality of anonymous posting: bullying specific groups and people with the ease of keeping identity hidden. 

“I [expletive] hate Greek life,” read one post with 43 upvotes.

“One of the girls that lives with me is … such a [expletive],” said another with 51 upvotes.

According to the moderators, many have seen an uptick in posts that violate Fizz’s terms, such as hate speech, misinformation and more. 

Fizz states it has no connection to the universities it is servicing, meaning that schools have no access to the content or data from the application. The app, which is currently expanding to other universities across the United States, was started at Stanford University in 2021 by two college students who, according to their website, noticed a lack of connection among the community due to campus restrictions caused by the pandemic.

In October, the app was finally launched on Rider’s campus, much to students’ excitement; however, Fizz has somewhat soured in terms of content posted, with student organizations on campus and users taking note. 

Rider University Greek Council made an Instagram post on Feb. 28 stating that the board has been made aware of “several inappropriate situations involving the Fizz app,” and discouraging harmful language and even participation on the platform. 

“We remind members of our community that all are held to a high standard, and this applies to social media,” read the post. “Should anyone be found responsible for any harmful or negative comment that involves our community, they will be held accountable.”

Christina Natoli, vice president of membership for RUGC, stated that comments became harmful to those in the community, with posts featuring students’ faces and all-around negativity on the app. 

However, one Fizz post in particular prompted RUGC to respond: a post about Gary DeVercelly Jr., a student who died as a result of hazing on Rider’s campus in 2007. 

“Sippin on that [expletive] that killed Gary DeVercelly Jr.,” read the Fizz post. A screenshot viewed by The Rider News sent from Natoli showed that the post, which is listed as anonymous, had been upvoted 143 times. 

When students sign up, they are required to put in their Rider email address to confirm they attend the university; however, users have virtually no way to tell who is posting what. 

“It feels to us that this app has turned from an anonymous community forum to one that breaks up members of a community,” said Natoli, a junior political science major. “It seems to give people a platform to share things they would never say themselves, which has unfortunately not progressed in a positive way.”

Natoli said the RUGC is in contact with Fizz support to find solutions that combat these types of posts on the app. 

Bianca Bracey, a senior radio and podcasting major, has used the app since January, and has seen the atmosphere shift in the short amount of time she’s been active on Fizz. Once a lighthearted place for students to interact with each other, Bracey said that quickly changed. 

“It feels like high school again, to be honest,” she said. Posts she saw on the app included misinformation, mentions of specific students and their personal information and gossip. 

Bracey said some of the most concerning content was demeaning posts against women. 

“It’s just wild…to think our generation is still degrading women about trying to be more sexually open,” said Bracey. “It’s just so upsetting and sad.”

She said that she has no plans to continue using the app, referring to the content as a “headache.”

Student moderators

A number of students were offered $500 a month to moderate, with the workload seeming simple: posting 30 times every day, including winter and holiday breaks, and taking down posts of those who violated Fizz’s guidelines. Many student moderators were contacted on LinkedIn for the job opportunity.

In a Rider News interview with an anonymous moderator in October, they estimated that around 1,000 Rider students were using Fizz during its launch period. 

Included in the contracts for employees are non-disclosure agreements, meaning moderators were unable to speak with The Rider News unless they were granted full anonymity. 

Two moderators who spoke with The Rider News were recently fired from the app with no explanation except that it was a “business decision,” according to documents reviewed. Their contracts with Fizz were month-to-month.

“As a reminder, the confidentiality agreement we have executed with you remains in effect beyond the term of the consulting agreement,” said an email to one of the moderators notifying them of their termination. 

As soon as both were notified, they lost moderator privileges on the app immediately. 

“In the first month, I feel like it was fine. People just wanted to get to know each other, they wanted to try the app out,” said one past moderator. “Over the next few months, I feel like it’s just become more negative.”

The anonymous former moderator said that posts became more inappropriate as time went on, and that many posters began oversharing, including using students’ names and making comments about specific campus groups in posts — a violation of Fizz’s terms of use. 

The other past moderator stated that sexual content and slut shaming also found a home on the app, which violate Fizz’s rules as well. 

“It’s way toxic now,” said the former moderator. 

One of Fizz’s top posters at Rider, who wished to remain anonymous due to the nature of the app, stated that the atmosphere has shifted since they began using it during its launch. 

“It started out as crazy, insane things that people kept in their mind,” he said. “And then it sort of became [a place] to gossip.”

The anonymous top poster, who also moderates without being paid, said that he is just there to post memes and jokes on a usually bleak app. 

“My role is just lightening the mood and making people laugh and have a good time,” he said. “I like to mind my business.”

Other social media sites like 2013’s YikYak demonstrated that anonymous posting apps may not work at universities, so proving how it’s different from the rest will be a challenge for Fizz, starting with its plan to combat hate. YikYak shut down in 2017 after content on its sites prompted criminal charges against violent posters, lawsuits and school lockdowns after gun and bomb threats, bullying and discriminatory content.

“The safety and well-being of students in our communities is our top priority,” Fizz’s website stated. “To achieve this goal, our community moderators are trained to remove content that violates our community guidelines.”

Keith Kemo, director of community standards at Rider, said that the university has not received any complaints related to Fizz or its content. 

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