Yik Yak: Anonymous Gossip or Cyberbullying Haven?

This spring, the app, Yik Yak began to receive a large amount of attention in the news, none of it positive.  School officials from Chicago to Georgia have worked to try to ban the app due to its use as a means to cyberbully students.

So what is Yik Yak?  It is a social media app that allows a user to post anonymous messages online. It is an app that utilizes geolocation as users can see comments by those within a five mile radius of them.   It was initially designed for use by college students to spread the word about what was happening on college campuses.  Technically, no one under the age of 17 is supposed to use the app but as with most or all apps, this is truly unenforceable.  The app has become very popular with high school students and has become a problem.

This year alone, a number of high schools around the country have reported issues with the use of the app by its students.  In March of this year, the app was disabled in Chicago after the schools had problems with the comments being made by students about other students.  There were also publicized incidents of cyberbullying in Georgia and a school bomb threat made in California via the app.

The fact that the app is seen by those close to the user makes it a great venue for bullying.  If a user is in a school,  any comments made will be seen by all of the other users in the school.  As we have all seen in the media over the years, cyberbullying can have dangerous consequences, in some cases resulting in teens taking their own lives due to the bullying.

The use of Yik Yak as a cyberbullying venue is a story that actually has a pretty good ending.  The reason for this is that the creators of the app are concerned about who is using it and how it is being used.  The company has implemented what they call “geo-fences” around middle schools and high schools.  This allows the company to block the use of the app around the school.  Users who are on the app despite its 17+ rating now cannot use the app while they are at school. Though this does not solve the problem of cyberbullying using the app, it drastically reduces the opportunities.  All schools in the country are not yet mapped within the fence, but the company is working on it.  The company has also changed the rating to 17+ which enables parents to block the app if they are using parental controls on their child’s device.

As always, I maintain that the best solution in these situations is a combination of parental awareness and open discussion with children. Parents need to be aware of what technology their kids are using.  Teens are almost always more tech savvy than we are.  Parents then need to have open and honest discussions with their children about technology, its use and how they are specifically using technology.  Since blocking tends to not work very well with teens (they can nearly always find a way around it), monitoring programs that advise parents of what their kids are doing online might be a better option.  This can then provide the parents an opportunity to talk to their children directly about any questionable technology usage.

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