Yik Yak is only four months old, yet it is already causing problems for high schools and middle schools. Your BBB has been following the story. Yik Yak is a location-based app that, according to CNN, “creates an anonymous social chat room where up to 500 nearby users connect automatically through GPS tracking on their phones.” It is being characterized as a cross between Snapchat and Twitter. It does not allow pictures, and users are limited to 200 characters. According to the co-founder of Yik Yak, Brooks Buffington, they started it for college students age 17 or older to post events, complain, and share news. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent younger students from signing up.
With the growing popularity of Yik Yak among high school and middle school students, came troubling incidents. A high school in Massachusetts reported threats against the school posted on Yik Yak that caused the school to be evacuated twice. At a middle school in Alabama and a school in California, threats of bombing and violence posted on Yik Yak resulted in a lockdown. The two Alabama students, ages 14 and 16, who used Yik Yak to post threats to a Mobile County, Alabama school, were arrested after Yik Yak gave police their location data. The two youths are facing charges, and one of them has been charged with making terrorist threats. If convicted, the students could be incarcerated for up to three years. Schools in Georgia and Chicago have reported vicious cyberbullying attacks on Yik Yak.
In fact, schools across the U.S. have sent letters to parents about the app and have started banning it from their networks. According to TechCrunch, in response to the criticism, Yik Yak is working with a third party data provider to license GPS data for 100,599 public schools across the U.S. and 28,111 private schools. Yik Yak will use this GPS data to apply geo-fences around middle and high schools. This will prevents the app from working on school grounds. According to co-founder Bullington as reported by Tech Crunch, if a student tries to use the app, he/she will get a message like, “It looks like you’re trying to use Yik Yak on a middle school or high school grounds. Yik Yak is intended for people college-aged and above. The app is disabled in this area.”
Justin Patchin, a cyberbullying expert, says the geo-fencing is just a short-term solution that teens will figure out how to bypass. In view of the fact that more social chat apps will pop up, Patchin says, “It is more important to talk to the students about how to treat each other respectfully.”
Family internet safety advocate, Sue Scheff, in a March 11, 2014 Huffington Post article says, “…educating our communities on the importance of digital citizenship, online security, treating people with kindness, instilling empathy, and more is critical.”
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