The latest teen to be arrested after posting a school threat on Yik Yak is seeing first hand a couple of things that every Yik Yak user should know to be true. This is especially true for teens:
- Yik Yak is not really anonymous, especially if you post something illegal
- Law enforcement will go a long way to find you, even if you take extra steps to cover your tracks
Yik Yak is an anonymous, location-based social media app that allows users to post whatever is on their mind. Those posts are seen by any other Yik Yak users within a 1.5 – 5 mile radius, making users in that area your “network”. Yik Yak is ideally suited to schools, where all students who download the app create a school centric network. Most posts are harmless; some are not.
The teen in this case is a 16-year old from Ossining New York, who back in September allegedly used Yik Yak to post a threat that he would shoot up his high school. Last week, after an eight-month investigation that involved local and state police as well as the FBI, the student was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat – a felony.
Normally when a school threat is made on Yik Yak, a predictable series of events occurs:
- The school reports the threat to local police
- The police contact Yik Yak staff, who are very quick to cooperate and hand over the anonymous user’s IP address
- The police, armed with the IP address, contact the user’s mobile phone company and get the user name and address
- The user is arrested, often within 24 hours, sometimes the same day
In this case, the student must have gone to extraordinary lengths to cover his tracks, to no avail. According to Ossining Detective Lieutenant William Sullivan:
“It took so long because the investigation led overseas, and that’s why the FBI was involved. It was difficult because there were many different shields, and that led to dead ends. It shows that we work as a law enforcement team.”
Without even considering cyberbullying and other negative behaviors one can witness on Yik Yak, the messages here are pretty clear. First, making a school threat at any time, even in jest, is a bad idea. Second, assuming that anonymous apps or networks will protect your identity is a bad idea. It doesn’t happen that way. Third, while most Yik Yak posts are harmless, the downside for teens posting the app can be so profound that it’s a good idea to not allow high school students to download the app in the first place.
Take a moment to ask your teen if he is using Yik Yak or another anonymous app. If you don’t like the answer you get, you can check the phone for yourself.
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