The social media is a convenient platform for students to share information and views, but the huge number of users as well as the lack of anonymity involved could result in simple comments sparking major controversies.
Reluctant to be dragged into online tussles in the midst of their otherwise busy schedules, some former students of the Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar (IIT-G) have created Fluttr — a social media app for college campuses where students can share their views in complete anonymity, thereby avoiding unwanted public attention.
The software — created by Pankaj Gautam, Rajesh Patidar, Shivam Mani Tripathi and Ujash Dave in September 2015 — was initially limited only to those studying in that institution. However, word-of-mouth publicity soon brought in more than 10,000 users, including fellow-IITians from Bombay, Delhi, Guwahati, Bhubaneshwar, Hyderabad and Indore. Even students from the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar and the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology in Surat have begun using Fluttr to discuss issues on the campus and off it.
Gautam, a 2015-batch electrical engineering student, said the idea behind the app was to form a discussion forum that allowed people to speak their mind in complete anonymity. “There were a couple of instances when we students felt the need for an informal platform to air our views. We took two weeks to build a prototype, and by September 2015, we had launched the app,” he added.
So, how is Fluttr different from other chatting platforms? “The idea was to open a common forum that can be managed by the users themselves. We have also launched a feature where users gain points on the basis of the comments they get. Those who score the highest points get to manage the app,” he said, adding that even institute professors have begun using it.
Fluttr, which can be downloaded free of cost from Google Play, has features similar to popular social media platforms. Users have the option of liking or disliking comments, and if a certain post receives more than a specific number of dislikes, it is automatically wiped off the feed.
The recent incidents at the Jawaharlal Nehru University involving student union chief Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest have sparked debates on campuses across the country, including IITs. “Students these days are very aware and interested in voicing their opinions. Thankfully, the social media plays a major role in making the world a smaller place. Students are often seen participating in debates online, and there’s nothing wrong in it as long as they are not making (controversial) statements just for the sake of doing so,” said Rahul Gairola, assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature at IIT-Roorkee.
However, using the social media to voice their views could also attract hostile comments, and this is where Fluttr’s advantage of anonymity comes in. “The best thing about the app is that it automatically generates a random user name for you when you want to post comments. There’s no way of finding people’s identity, giving them the freedom to voice their opinions with ease,” said a second-year student of B Tech (Mechanical) Engineering at IIT-Delhi.
While Fluttr is used by a few students at IIT-Bombay, most still depend on email threads and other forums to discuss issues. “There are various forums with specific email threads. This makes it easier to discuss issues or share opinions with others on the campus without inviting unnecessary criticism from the outside world,” said Eeshan Malhotra, a second-year computer science student. These email threads are restricted to a set of people in order to ensure that discussions do not get blown out of proportion, he added.
“There is need for more such forums, where students can just be themselves and not be judged for their opinions. At present, Fluttr is a one-of-a-kind app in this country. Given the number of students India has, we need more apps and forums for reaching out to other like-minded people and exercise our freedom of speech in its true form,” said another student from IIT-B.
Gautam and his teammates have no plans to monetise the app yet, and for now, they are hoping to reach out to more people in the student community. “As of now, we depend on bootstrapping and funds from family and friends, but that’s something we hope to change soon,” he added.