ARTICLES, INTERNET SAFETY. FACTS ABOUT CYBER BULLYING
The Rise of Yik Yak
Move over Snapchat, another social media app is on the rise, and this one is anonymous, making it all the more appealing to users. Yik Yak is a free anonymous messaging app that allows users to create and view Yaks, which are posts, within a ten-mile radius. You can respond to Yaks, check out Yaks in other areas, look into specific topics, rate posts by “upvoting” or “downvoting”, and earn points called “Yawarma points”.
What is Yik Yak?
To keep anonymous, Yik Yak doesn’t collect a name or email address upon registration. Instead, it only requires a username and collects location data. Yik Yak also stores posts created including comments and replies made to other users. Any posts created or replies and comments are also fully public and can be viewed or shared by any other users.
Since Yik Yak allows users to publicly share information while being totally anonymous, it is even more inclined to host bullying and gossip than other social media sites. Yik Yak claims it was created to give users all an equal voice, hence keeping users anonymous, and does not support bullying of any kind. As of May 2014, the app put filters in place to identify posts that bully others. Additionally, over a year ago, Yik Yak put in place a policy that users must be over seventeen to join, allowing parents to block children’s phones. Also, “geofences” are placed around middle and high schools found on GPS, meaning that access to open Yik Yak is denied (geofences can also be requested on the site). However, Yik Yak has been at the root of the problem in many severe situations in schools.
Consequences of Yik Yak
Last year in November of 2014, two schools in California were put on lockdown due to bomb threats posted on Yik Yak. Also in November, at the University of Central Oklahoma, Kionte Davon Allen was charged with posting threats to “shoot up” the school, and he is just one out of many. He was the eleventh student that semester in the United States to be charged due to threats posted using the social media app.
Although there was no proof that the students had the intention to harm the school or even that they had access to weapons, putting an entire community under threat is a serious matter. It is believed that youth take advantage of and abuse the anonymity of the app to push the limits and see what they can get away with. Elizabeth Long, a teenager from Atlanta, Georgia, was severely bullied on Yik Yak and attempted suicide. This motivated her to start a petition to end the social media app on change.org, gaining over 77, 000 signatures.
One of her points was that the anonymity associated with Yik Yak means that users have zero accountability for what they post.
Additionally, even though the app states users must be 17, Long claimed that there are no safeguards that keep young kids from downloading the app, and the tolerance policy for bullying does not ensure that posts are removed or that users are suspended. Long met up with the founders of the app, which is when they began to put in place geofencing, filters for bullying and threats, including for the names of individuals, and racially insensitive terms, and the addition of moderators to review feeds and remove offensive content. However, since Elizabeth’s meeting and petition, Yik Yak continues to encounter issues.
Have you read our other articles about Cyberbullying and Teens and Social Media?
Recently in January of this year, four fire alarms were pulled at four different high schools in Ottawa, on the same day. The Ottawa Fire Services believed that Yik Yak was the root cause of the situation, which was confirmed by students. One of the “yaks” posted stated that if they received 100 likes, they would pull the fire alarm, which is exactly what happened. Since the app allows users to see posts within a short distance of one another, the fire alarms were all pulled within a few blocks of each other, another clue that Yik Yak was at the start of the dare. A student at one of the schools said that Yik Yak was also being used to cyberbully, with hateful and hurtful rumours being posted. Although Ottawa school boards have banned the app, students who have data are still able to use it.
Yik Yak – Geofence Schools
The app is not going to be shut down anytime soon.
There have been big steps taken towards improving the app, but it is still anonymous and still easy to abuse. A suggestion for parents is to look into your child’s phone or make sure their school is registered for a geofence with Yik Yak. There will always be ways around it, and banning it completely will not make the bullying, rumours, and threats disappear. What is needed is proper education and talks with students about the effects of cyberbullying and the consequences for bomb, shooting, or fire threats. Yik Yak, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, can bring together communities of people to connect on everyday topics or make big changes, but they just need to be used responsibly.