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Yik Yak

Wait! What is Yik Yak?

If you are a parent, grandparent, or educator in the area, then Yik Yak is the new social media site you need to learn about in order to understand what is going on with teens and early twenty-somethings.

Started in December of 2013 by a company in Atlanta, in just a few months Yik Yak has taken off in popularity on college campuses and in high schools around the country. The app (for iPhone and Android) works as a local bulletin board with a 200-character limit on each text. Messages are confined to a 1.5 mile radius so if someone is 20 miles away, for example, they would not be able to see what was happening in the local group.

But then the real problem sets in for Yik Yak. The users are anonymous. Much like previous versions of anonymous social media apps like Secret and Whisper, the lack of needing to place a name with a user account has given some people the chance to show their inner selves.

And it is not pretty.

- A San Clemente, California high school was shut down in March after a student used Yik Yak to send a bomb threat because he thought it would be “fun.”

- Also in California, a high school student was charged with three felonies after threatening shooting sprees at two local schools.

- Shooting sprees were also threatened by two teens at schools in Mobile, Alabama.

- New York Magazine recently profiled the abuse of Yik Yak at a Westport, Connecticut high school where some kids were referred to as “slut” or “fag.” One student asked how soon before they could count on a named student committing suicide.

Anonymous social media services have become the places where cyber bullying runs rampant. Even though the legal disclosure for Yik Yak states users must be at least 17 years-old to use the service, there is no real way for the owners to be able to police that requirement. Some school districts have asked Yik Yak to use geo-fencing to block the program from working around middle and high schools. The owners have complied but even they admit all students need to do is access the app from their homes to get around the security issue.

To be fair, the Yik Yak program has provided some benefits as well. A student at Vanderbilt University was recently diagnosed with cancer and users on Yik Yak banded together to raise several thousand dollars to be used for medical bills.

So, the main problem is not with Yik Yak or its technology. The issue is with the users. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to say and do things they normally would not do in public. A few years ago the Columbus Dispatch famously teamed up with the website Topix to be used for comments on their articles. They paid tens of thousands of dollars to integrate the Topix programming into their newspaper website.

The program lasted only a few months before the swearing, insults, racism, etc. rose to such a vile height the Dispatch management shut it down.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Apparently our society is on its way to proving we have failed the character test.