Imagine being able to insult, berate, demean and mock people around you, making the the laughing stock of the nearest 500 users of an anonymous texting app. Welcome to the world of Yik Yak, the text/message board app that allows people to join together in bullying someone, all with the added creepiness of a cowards favorite cloak: Anonymity.
Yik Yak, which it's developer intended as an anonymous texting app for college students, has become a target of criticism as of late. Described as a cross between SnapChat and Twitter, Yik Yak is a location-based app that creates an anonymous social chat room of up to 500 nearby users who connect through GPS tracking on their mobile phones. The startup was launched by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, aiming to connect people through anonymous, location-based posts. Within a five-mile radius, the poster can choose to share with the closest 100, 250, or 500 Yik Yak users. For $.99, users can share with 1,000 people, 2,500 for $1.99, and 10,000 for $5.While intended to be a creative way for users over 17 to share thoughts anonymously via text message, which are then displayed on an in-app message board for all to see, has developed into something far less virtuous, and downright cruel.
In today's society, it is incredibly important to learn from the mistakes of others when developing new tech. This could not be more true with Yik Yak's main hook: Anonymity. As Forums, Message Boards, and most importantly YouTube have proved for 7 years, providing a public a forum commenting and discussion under a blanket of anonymity is simply a dangerous prospect. While a small portion of the user base will use it safely and within it's defined purpose, the vast majority will use it to showcase the absolute worst of human connection. With unlimited streams of execrable, obscene and downright repugnant comments. YouTube got so bad that Google was forced to implement an entirely new system for identification to attempt to clean up the site, and discourage the hate.
And while Yik Yak is supposed to be for users 17 and over, there is absolutely no system for preventing underage users from setting up an account.
Cyberbullying is not the only problem with the anonymous social chat app. There are other incidents:
- A high school in the city of Marblehead, in Massachusetts, wasevacuated twice in one day on 4 March 2014 due to unspecified threats posted on Yik Yak.
- A middle school in Decatur, Alabama was locked down over threats of violence posted to Yik Yak. According to the Chicago Tribune, an Alabama teenager was arrested in February 2014 after authorities said they tracked a shooting threat made on the service to his phone.
- A school in San Clemente, California, was locked down on 6 March 2014 after an anonymous bomb threat was posted on Yik Yak.
In theory, I could post on Yik Yak disparaging, hateful comments about someone, and no one would stop me from sending that out to a maximum of 10,000 nearby Yik Yak users. As it stands now, posts are deleted when two or more users mark the content as inappropriate, or if someone screenshots offensive content and emails it to Yik Yak. The problem that exists though, is the disgusting side of human nature: because of anonymity, some conversations only become more offensive and hateful.
The Chicago Tribune reports that "at least four" Chicago high schools have sent home warnings about Yik Yak to parents in the past few weeks, with principals asking that parents remove the app from their children's phones and keep them from reinstalling it.
Several districts have also banned Yik Yak from their networks, though they admit this is a symbolic move that doesn't provide any actual, technological barrier for students to access the app through their phones.
Yik Yak's responding to the criticism by disabling it in some areas, including the entire city of Chicago until the firm fixes the problem of keeping it out of the hands of high schoolers and middle schoolers. For schools, preventing cyberbullying has become a major point of enforcement because of new legislation and the threat of legal action.
Using the suicide of sexual assault victim Audrie Pott, 15, of San Joseas an example, State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) proposed legislation Friday that would increase the penalty for sharing photos or electronic messages meant to embarrass, harass or intimidate someone.
In New Jersey, the mother of a 15-year-old suicide victim filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Morris School District, the Daily Record reported. Sharon Varnelas alleged that officials failed to stop three students who were bullying her son, Lennon Baldwin.