We are seeing what seems to be a never-ending parade of new ways for minors to get into hot water online, both on the web and on cell phones. One of the newest ones, a fully anonymous app called Yik Yak, is causing havoc in a number of schools already, and has the feeling of something that is likely to spread quite quickly.
The keys to Yik Yak’s functionality are the anonymity of all users, and the fact that the app employs the user’s phone GPS system to precisely pinpoint the location of the message that is posted.
How it works is that once the app is downloaded on an iPhone or Android device, users can post any anonymous comment that they want to “the wall”, or the message board for that user’s location. For high school students at schools where Yik Yak has caught on, the wall has quickly become that high’s school’s anonymous message board. It has the earmarks of something that could go viral.
Another feature of the app adds to the virality of extremely outlandish or hurtful posts – users can upvote (or downvote) posts, and posts can be sorted based on popularity, all of which can serve to light a fire under the worst type of content and commentary.
Just this week, Yik Yak has been blamed for a school shooting threat in Alabama and an outbreak of cyberbullying at a Kansas School. In neither case have any users involved been identified.
According to Yik Yak’s App Store review, the age limit is 17 years of age but when I downloaded it, I wasn’t asked my age at all. That being said, the problem isn’t the age limit; the problem to date is that schools can’t restrict the use of the app without banning cell phones entirely, because the app and GPS use the cell phone signal and not the school’s wifi network.
While Yik Yak’s Legal Guidelines prohibit pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal, or otherwise objectionable material or content, the company claims that it doesn’t monitor the content posted, and also warns:
“You understand that in using the Yik Yak service you may encounter content that may be deemed objectionable, obscene, or in poor taste, which content may or may not be identified as having explicit language.”
Because the schools are pretty powerless when Yik Yak problems arise, parents need to be extra vigilant. If your teen has downloaded Yik Yak, you should ask why. Teens need to hear a powerful anti bullying message often, and a warning about disrupting school in general. What seems funny at the time may be the opposite, and there is always the risk that the more popular the app becomes, the higher the likelihood that a hack uncovers true user identities.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.