There’s been a surge in the creation of apps over the last couple of years that allow users to chat or post messages anonymously. Not surprisingly, these apps are being misused by college kids and teens to bully and threaten the safety of their peers, and raising serious concerns for parents and school officials across the country. Parents, please take a look at your kids’ devices and see if they have downloaded an app called Yik Yak. Here’s a description of the app from the iTunes app store:
Yik Yak acts like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users around you. It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them.
Yik Yak is an app that allows users to anonymously post messages of up to 200 characters long that can be viewed by other users within a 1.5 mile radius of their location. The app was developed as means to connect small communities (like students on college campuses) and let them share (‘Yak’ about) whatever is on their mind. User names and passwords are not required by the app, so users feel they are not accountable for what they post. Not surprisingly, kids are using the app to take bullying to a whole new level and there have been cases of schools going into lockdown because of students using the app to post bomb threats.
Yik Yak has only been available since December 2013, but has grown quickly in popularity. It’s available for free download in the iTunes app store and has a rating of 17 or older for the following reasons:
Frequent/Intense Horror/Fear Themes
Frequent/Intense Profanity or Crude Humor
Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes
Frequent/Intense Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
Frequent/Intense Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity
That pretty much says it all – doesn’t it?
Concerns about Yik Yak
Yik Yak has been the source of so many issues in and around middle and high schools, that the creators needed to take measures to reduce the misuse of the application with GPS technology that provides the option of blocking the app within certain geographic areas (near schools, for example).
Here’s are links to some recent news about how Yik Yak is being used:
The creators say that they never intended for it to be used (or abused) the way it has been. But, it’s not hard to see how an app that allows any user to publicly post whatever they want, without any accountability, might easily take a wrong turn.
I downloaded the app to try to see first-hand what it was all about. It took only a couple of minutes to download and I was not prompted for a username or password. The main screen simply shows a feed of comments (‘Yaks’) and there are two categories displayed at the top ‘New’ and ‘Hot’. The posted comments are voted up or down by other users and the number of votes is displayed next to the comment. The idea is that if you obtain enough ‘up’ votes, your comment may be displayed in the ‘Hot’ category. So of course, users try to post things that will get a reaction so other users will ‘up-vote’ their comment. I guess it is some sort of validation that what they said was clever, funny or vulgar enough to get someone’s attention. On the flip-side, if enough users “down-vote” a comment, it may be removed from the forum.
I happen to live near a small liberal arts college so I easily found plenty of ‘Yaks’ to check out and see what is on the minds of our local college students. As I waded through the comments, I saw some entertaining, clever comments in the mix, but I’d conservatively say 90% of the ‘Yaks’ were about sex, drugs and alcohol, and many were downright offensive. I saw insulting messages directed at users called out by first name and even saw comments made by users who were clearly very unhappy. It made me think about how horrified I would be to have my child either publicly posting messages like this or being the subject of them.
In my opinion, this app seems to be just a forum for idiots to spout off about all the things they know they shouldn’t say out loud, and wouldn’t dare say, if their names were attached.
Oddly enough, there’s also an option on the screen at the bottom titled ‘Peek’ which allows you to choose from a list of college names under the titles of ‘Featured’ and ‘Peek Near’. So, if for kicks you wanted to check out what was on the minds of the college kids at other colleges around the country, you could do that.
Here’s a screenshot (with some attempt at censoring) of the banter going on in the area of a random college I chose to ‘peek near’:
Is this the sort of thing you want your kids reading throughout their day?
What Parents should know about Yik Yak
- The app is free and intended for ages 17 +
- Users are not required to sign in to use this app, so your kids may foolishly think they can say whatever they want without consequences. True anonymity online is an illusion. If a user posts something threatening and the police get involved, they can trace the comments to the device.
- Anything goes on this app and the majority of comments I saw referred to sex, drugs and alcohol as well as profane, offensive content.
- The app is often a forum for bullying with many harassing comments — and even if targets are not named, often it is not difficult for users to figure out who they are.
- Kids have posted bomb threats on the app and many schools have blocked it from being available in their area because of this.
- The app can be highly addictive and your kids could easily spend an excessive amount of time reading through the mostly senseless, offensive comments.
- Schools in the know are taking measure to block the app from being used in their geographic location, but there is nothing stopping your child from sitting at home, downloading it and seeing what ‘Yik Yak’ community they can access and participate in.
Yik Yak is not an app that you would want your kids to use – even when they are of college age and supposedly “mature” enough not to abuse it. Follow this link to Yik Yak on the iTunes App store so you know what to look for on your child’s device. If you find this app, I suggest you delete it. I can’t see any good reason why anyone should bother with this app. Even if your kids aren’t posting nasty or hurtful things themselves, just reading it will subject them to all sorts of crude, negative and sometimes malicious content that you wouldn’t want them to read anyway.
Take the opportunity to talk with your kids again about how they can never feel that using an app “anonymously” is a guarantee that posts can’t be traced to them. Talk to them about protecting their online reputation and make sure they fully understand that criminal charges can be brought against them if they make any kind of threats online.
Have you seen this app on your child’s device? If you have any helpful information to share, please leave a comment.