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Inside the closure of the COVID party app Vybe Together

Just hours before New York City began to retire for New Year’s Eve (hopefully) at home, Alexandar Dimcevski walked through the grocery store wondering how he became 2020’s final COVID-19 villain.

“We were canceled by the liberal media,” Dimcevski said a few days after news of his invitation-house-party-planning app Vybe Together sparked new fears that users were turning to secret social media apps to party indoors. New Year’s Eve. , as the virus runs rampant through the United States. “Apple took us down within hours. But we̵

7;ll be back. ”

As Los Angeles rolls off the most serious wave of COVID-19 yet, with 10,000 deaths in LA County and a county resident now dying every 10 minutes from the disease, Vybe Together became the face of both tech-scene opportunism and nightless ruthlessness when New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz tweeted details of an early release.

“We did not have a voice, we did not have a channel to express our side of the story,” Dimcevski said. “Within hours,” he claimed, “articles had headlines that were not true.”

Vybe Together, in its short life accessible to residents of NYC and Miami, joined a coterie of ticket sites like Eventbrite and social media platforms that, intentionally or not, have catered for the kind of influencer mansion parties, hip hop shows and fables think contributed to it last deadly wave. Vybe Together was built before COVID-19, but more than most others had its illegal purpose open when the disease increased.

As of Friday, just before New Year’s Eve, the app – which allowed users to host and market collections to select applicants and framed indoor private parties as a way to “get the uprising” – was no longer available on any major app platform, and TikTok canceled his account.

Before the Vybe Together page was updated with a short mea culpa (“Our intentions are for people to enjoy small gatherings in their apartments NOT illegal parties”), it had a “What about COVID” section that explained its approach to the pandemic : “We are aware that Covid is a major health problem for the country, our communities, our friends and family. … Having large parties is very dangerous. Therefore we do not support it. But Vybe is a compromise, no big parties but small gatherings. We could live, at least a little in these times with Vybe. “

While no more than a few thousand users ever downloaded the app, and the founder claimed that these users hosted “no more than two or three” events per week, it quickly gained every notoriety the elusive owners had committed.

“I admit we stamped it badly,” Dimcevski said when asked if he understood why, when overcrowded hospitals house patients in gift shops and run out of oxygen and supplies, people were furious at the app’s premise. “We did not let many people take part in this. We understand that this is not the time to go mainstream. ”

Although Dimcevski’s company received the app store guillotine for its obvious public health threat, he did not think he was the worst offender out there.

“If people want to throw illegal parties, they go to Eventbrite because you can be anonymous,” he said. (Eventbrite had been the preferred local ticket platform for parties ranging from rap shows to orgies during LA’s COVID-19 shutdown.) “There was nothing illegal with our app, it was just for small gatherings in apartments. They can be anything from board games to twerking with girls next door. ”

The Beverly Hills restaurant La Scala tested the water by holding a secret indoor NYE party; a wandering infamous LA party series called Spanky’s had similar plans. A Christian singer-songwriter, Sean Feucht, drew dozens of counter-protesters as he led his maskless fans in a potential super-spreader who sang together through vulnerable homeless camps in Skid Row and Echo Park.

The city’s new rules state: “All public and private gatherings and events with people from more than one household are not allowed except for outdoor faith-based services and outdoor political expressions.”

But many locals and city employees fear that apps like Vybe Together drive the house party culture even deeper underground on big nights like New Year’s Eve. LA County Superintendent Hilda Solis told The Times: “From what we saw with so many people attending gatherings and travel, we are still very concerned about another wave on top of the current wave.” Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote in a tweet: “Los Angeles, my message could not be clearer: Do not come with those outside your household today. Do not host or attend a party in person. Do not travel. Please celebrate virtually and welcome the new year with the people in your household. Be safe, save lives. ”

Dimcevski (a since deleted LinkedIn listed him as a graduate of New York University and a native of Sweden) seemed torn between enjoying the newfound global attention and back pedaling on the app’s sudden reputation. He would not provide further information about himself or Vybe Together, except that the app was based in New York, and that he, perhaps surprisingly, said that he received funding two years ago from a technology grant program in New York. “That’s the crazy part, because they gave us some money,” he said. “But no one has been in contact yet.”

The app, he said, was never operational in LA, the global heart of influencer culture. The parties Vybe Together facilitated would have violated public health orders here if it had been. But Dimcevski said that as soon as Vybe Together comes out of the app store jail, he will finally try again – the site asks fans to stay in touch for the planned return.

“We would never tolerate illegal parties. Great underground raves, no, no, no, ”said Dimcevski. “It was just for the coolest people in town. We used the app process to find out if you had the sauce. ”

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