Fizz Asserts Control

Fizz Asserts Control

Since the very first day I stepped foot on campus for winter term, I knew Fizz was going to be nothing but trouble. No worthwhile product has ever been advertised with colorful cardstock flyers delivered to doorsteps. They were already trying way too hard, even before the offers of $15 and free Krispy Kreme donuts if you re-shared their ads on Instagram. I felt invaded — capitalism was literally trying to force this down my throat.

Worse, it was yet another social media app. Look, I get it — our chronically online generation is always chomping at the bit for the next morsel of brain stimulation to distract us from the miserable mundanity of merely maintaining homeostasis in today’s relentlessly productivity-oriented American hellscape. I, too, have the attention span of a goldfish, and #relatable memes are one of the few things that can even briefly satiate the gaping hole of self-doubt that society has instilled in me.

And to be honest, if the average Fizz post was even 10% less mind-rotting, I might have a different tune about this. However it turns out the majority of the posts on Fizz are made by moderators who are paid up to $500/month to generate 30-40 of them per day. The rest are mainly deranged ravings that have leaked out from the Hobbesian state of nature within the walls of Fleming Hovse (and derivatives).

In fact, the mind-blowing awfulness of most Fizz content has led many, including myself, to question the legitimacy of some of these posts that garner more than 300 likes and interactions (that’s 1/3 of Caltech’s undergrad population) within mere hours.

On top of that, Fizz is not available for web or Android, which means these numbers only include iPhone users. This makes me extremely ඞSUSඞ of Fizz founders’ claim that “95% of Stanford undergraduates have downloaded the app.”

And now we’re sh*tting on the honor code! Wow guys, look at us and our clever, funny, relatable, cool, and good content! Hey, psst, what if… we collaborated on the 1 (one) non-collab problem on this set…? Haha, jk… unless?

Do I even need to explain how toxic this is?

Indeed, something about the idea of this completely anonymized, university-specific platform rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. But the Caltech Confessions Facebook group has already showed us the soul-corroding behavior of Techers when they lack any fear of accountability (see Caltech Confession #3728). And we think Fizz is going to be better, how?

Surely, Fizz co-founders and Stanford dropouts Teddy Solomon and Ashton Cofer must have seen how quickly YikYak, another anonymous, location-specific platform, turned into a literal cesspool of hate speech and incitements to violence causing it to be shut down in 2017. (If only Facebook were that responsible.) Then again, maybe their goal was to create an app with content so vile and attention-grabbing that no one could help but continue to engage with it forever and ever. After all, TechCrunch’s article did introduce Solomon as “the next Mark Zuckerberg.”

It’s a fitting comparison, especially in light of Fizz’s apparent affinity for the legal nuclear option when it comes to covering up any responsibility for the shortcomings of their platform. In late 2021, Fizz threatened (to use a technical term) to sue the pants off of three fellow Stanford students after they (the students) discovered a major vulnerability in Fizz’s database. This vulnerability compromised personally identifying information about any user behind any post, since the database did not store posts anonymously.

Fizz did not notify its users of the fact that this vulnerability was discovered, and it’s not clear if they’ve completely fixed it. Having worked at early-stage startup companies before, this looks to me like a classic case of code-now-think-later. This is very cool and good, since this app aims to have the emails, phone numbers, and sensitive info of students at >1,000 institutions by the end of 2023.

“But Guutz,” I hear you saying, “TikTok already gives away my location, IP address, search history, contact information, private messages, personal interests, device identifiers, sleep habits, shameful secrets, psychological profile, political affiliation, medical information, and desires to purchase a new hat to the Chinese government. How much more data could Fizz possibly take from me?” To which I am forced to cede my point. But there’s more at stake here than the secret of how many hours of lesbian thirst-traps you watch per day.

To be fair, Fizz does have some redeeming features that might help prevent it from going the way of YikYak. Particularly, Caltech’s fizz is moderated only by Caltech students, and a valid email address is required to make an account.

Both of those features have their shortcomings though. For starters, by paying Caltech students to do the dirty work for them, Fizz’s business model literally becomes convincing broke college kids to sell their souls out to a toxic social app. (And from what some of Caltech’s moderators told me, it didn’t take much convincing.) Students at other universities that have been invaded by Fizz have had very similar experiences as well.

More practically, since Caltech students are canonically incredibly busy, a lot of problematic content tends to slip under the radar. A few weeks ago, one of my close friends opened Fizz one day, and was presented with at least 5 (five) posts spreading false rumors and mean-spirited jokes about them. They immediately reported these posts, which obviously violated Fizz’s community guidelines, but they remained up for at least 12 hours before the moderators took action.

Another concern that has been raised is related to the only signup requirements for Fizz being a email. Particularly, the incoming class of 2026 will be receiving their access.caltech credentials soon, giving the prefrosh access to Fizz months before rotation begins. Needless to say, Fizz does not and cannot enforce Caltech’s rotation rules. I would say that the Honor Code is the most viable solution to this, but then again, the Fizz user base shows very consistent disregard for honor under anonymity. This might warrant further conversation. Finally, given that I am an Astrophysics major, I should note that I have no conflicts of interest to declare. In fact, despite of the similarity in pronunciation to “Fizz-ics”, these are two completely unrelated fields of study. It’s called a homophone. Look it up.