yik yak feature

Yik Yak is today’s Anonymous Burn Book

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Yik Yak is the latest in a series of new anonymous apps. On Yik Yak, people have complete anonymity to share their uncensored thoughts, observations and comments. This app is designed to act as a local bulletin board for communities. Unfortunately, what many people use it for is to post mean and bitchy comments about other people.

yik yak feedYik Yak is like an anonymous local Twitter feed. It doesn’t require a username, password, or  login. You just download it and go. The only data Yik Yak needs is your location. Yaks (as these posts are called) are shared with the first 500 users within a 5 mile radius. Yaks are limited to 200 characters. Other users can reply to a yak or share it on Tumblr, Twitter, etc. They can also promote it within Yik Yak by voting it up or down. Yaks with the most up votes appear in the hot newsfeed.

This app is perfectly suited for school campuses. Schools have lots of people within a 5 mile radius who know each other and want to connect. Most students are not using Yik Yak as a local bulletin board. Several high schools were on lock down due to bomb threats on Yik Yak and others have banned the app due to cyberbullying.

Yik Yak is rated 17+ in the app store, for good reason. When I scrolled through Yik Yak, I found most people were either bragging about their sexual exploits or slamming someone else. Although authors enjoy anonymity, many of them had no problem using their target’s name.

yik yak high schoolThe app states in its rules, “Yaks should not join a herd until they are mature enough, so no one under college age should be on Yik Yak“. In an effort to keep high schoolers off, the company has geofenced areas around high schools and middle schools. So, students cannot access this app within school boundaries. Outside of school, teens can still post. Hopefully, limiting access within school hours will reduce the abuse on this app.

Anonymous apps are trendy now. Teenagers are looking to escape the curated images of Facebook and Instagram. But, some of these apps are not as anonymous or private as they may think. Parents should talk to teens about behaving responsibly all the time not just if an adult is watching.

What Parents should talk to teens about

Apps have age restrictions for a reason. Just like you wouldn’t let a kid see an R rated movie until their ready, they should not be on certain apps until they are older. In the case of Yik Yak, this is a really bad R rated movie – little character development and an awful plot.

Complete anonymity does not exist on the internet.  Everywhere they go they leave a footprint online. Even on Yik Yak, police were still able to identify and arrest the student who posted the bomb threat. Teens should always act responsibly online.

Never hide behind anonymity. It is OK to use anonymity to protect themselves and their personal information. It is not OK to use it to hurt others. It is cowardly to slam someone online. If they need to vent, they should talk to a friend in person. Online is not the place for blowing off steam. Because Yik Yak is shared within a school community, teens may think they are just joking around or being funny with their school friends. These “jokes” are rarely funny to the recipient. If they wouldn’t wear the funny joke on t-shirt to school, they should not post it online.

This is not a private playground. Yaks can be shared on other social networks and spread beyond 5 miles. What was a friend pranking them can become the internet dumping on them. Friends should be friends online and off. Remind teens if they see this type of behavior, don’t add to it by reblogging, favoriting, liking or upvoting. They can report inappropriate posts to Yik Yak. They can also talk to a parent or a trusted adult if they have problem or a question.

 For more information on Yik Yak, check out:

college

Application done! Time to review your online profile

If you have a teen applying for college, the New York Times article, “They loved your GPA then they saw your tweets”, may invoke a silent scream. The article highlights the growing trend of admission officers looking at college applicants social media profiles. It shares how inappropriate tweets and posts may influence a college’s decision.

The article references a Kaplan Test Prep study which found 31% of admission officers have checked an applicant’s online profile. This is an increase from 26% in 2012. Although this number is increasing, most applicants will not have their social media profiles checked. Colleges receive too many applications to review every applicant’s online profile. According the New York Time’s article, admission officers are more likely to go online if they receive information about a student’s profile or they want to learn more about an award/project mentioned in the application. 

The good news is out of the applications reviewed only 30% found something that negatively impacted admission. This is down from 35% in 2012  “Many students are becoming more cautious about what they post, and also savvier about strengthening privacy settings and circumventing search,” said Christine Brown, Executive Director of College Admissions programs,Kaplan Test Prep. Kaplan’s student survey showed that 22% had changed their searchable names on social media, 26% had untagged themselves from photos, and 12% had deleted their social media profiles altogether.

Even though an admission officer is unlikely to check out your teen’s profile, it is still a good idea to review it. Other people may search their name online. Some scholarship organizations research applicants online. Plus, their new roommate or the cute student in their class may check them out online. They should spend some time senior year giving their teenage digital profile a makeover.

Here are 5 steps for a digital profile makeover:

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Start Digital Citizenship Week by sharing a Story “My Embarrassing Photo went Viral”

digital_citizenship_week_logo (1)Next week is Digital Citizenship Week. Teaching kids how to stay safe and share smart online is an ongoing conversation.  One of the best ways to initiate the digital talk is sharing a real story. It is always easier to talk about someone else and a real world example gives credibility to your talk.

The story of Caitlin Seida is great one to kickoff Digital Citizenship Week. Caitlin Seida wrote an excellent piece for Salon about when her embarrassing photo went viral. She shares how she encountered tremendous online cruelty and how she ultimately reclaimed her photo. Her story touches on many important online lessons about controlling your digital image and the reality of posting cruel comments online.

One Halloween, Caitlin Seida dressed up as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Caitlin, like most of us, didn’t have Angelina Jolie’s figure. She enjoyed dressing up and decided to shared a photo with her friends on Facebook. Nothing happened until several years later when the photo suddenly went viral.

A website, designed to encourage people to mock photos, found her picture and posted it. From there, it spiraled with other websites reposting the photo. Caitlin, alerted by a friend, investigated how this site got her photo. She discovered that she had accidentally posted it as “Public” not “Friends Only”. At first, she approached it with good humor. She grew up with the internet and knew about trolls but as the mean, cruel comments piled on she began to crumble.

“We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.”

Instead of drowning in these cruel comments, Caitlin tackled it head on. She sent take down notices to the websites that had posted it. She also responded directly to the online comments. Since many people had commented using their Facebook login, she could see their profile photo and real name. Caitlin began messaging them via Facebook. Unfortunately, not one of them apologized. So, Caitlin decided to take back her image by telling her own story.

Even after all this, Caitlin said in a KIRO interview she doesn’t believe people are meaner online just more thoughtless. Online communication happens so quickly it is easy to forget there is a real person in these photos and posts. She hopes her story will inspire kids to stand up and never stop believing they are awesome.

To hear her full story, check out My embarrassing picture went viral - When strangers mocked me for my weight, it was a lesson in Internet cruelty, mean girls — and fighting back in Salon or listen to her interview with Andrew Walsh on KIRO. For Digital Citizenship Week, play her interview in the car or read her story at the table and use it to kick-start a conversation about checking privacy settings, sharing with a small audience and most importantly extending kindness online.