An iOS app is facing backlash for allegedly promoting large and, in many cases, illegal gatherings in New York City.
The platform, called "Vybe Together," is a self-described "secret party app" that uses the tagline "Get your rebel on. Get your party on." Business Insider reports the app was co-founded by Baruch college graduate Alexander Dimcevski in January of this year, months before the pandemic was declared. It was originally called Trendies, but was apparently rebranded sometime in the summer, right before the United States experienced another surge in COVID-19 cases.
Though it was added to the app store about four months ago, Vybe Together has faced increasing backlash over the past week for providing a space in which people could organize, promote, and attend New Year's Eve celebrations, some of which may have violated NYC's restrictions on large gatherings.
New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz shared one of the company's TikTok videos that included clips of parties and promoted "gatherings every weekend."
As pointed out by the Verge, Vybe Together was recently pulled from the Apple App Store and its TikTok account was deactivated for violating community guidelines. However, the company took to Instagram on Tuesday to address the growing criticism and deny the allegations: "Blown out of proportion by the media," the Instagram story read. "We do not condone large gatherings."
A screenshot of the Frequently Asked Questions section on Vybe's website, which has since been deleted, was captured by Verge. In the section the company recognizes COVID-19 is a public health issue that can be mitigated by social distancing.
"We are like Eventbrite, but way cooler," a Vybe Together spokesperson told Business Insider via email. "Vybe's can be anything from playing board games to bachata with your neighbors. A lot of people have been isolated and lonely and we wanted to enable them to meet. We are aware that large gatherings are not okay and we do not promote them. If we see events are popular we take them off!"
Complex has reached out for comment.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned Americans to celebrate the holidays in ways that reduce the risks of COVID-19 infections. The agency's New Year's Eve guidelines recommends postponing travel during the holiday and avoiding crowds in indoor areas with poor ventilation.
"New Year’s parties traditionally have been parties of great cheer and abandon. People abandon their inhibitions and they imbibe a drink, or three. And that’s not a circumstance in which social distancing and mask wearing are going to survive very long," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told Yahoo! News. "So we’re very concerned that people — if they have these parties — inadvertently will invite the virus to the party ... These parties could really be accelerators of the spread of the virus. They’re indoors, and [involve] prolonged close contact with people. They are the exact environment this virus uses to be very contagious."
Earlier this month, the Times Square Alliance announced the 2020 Times Square New Year's Eve celebration will take place without the massive crowd. The event, hosted by Mean Girls star Jonathan Bennett, will be broadcasted on TV and online, and will include a musical performance by Gloria Gaynor. The celebration will also recognize the Heroes of 2020, such as first responders, essential workers, and their families.