Yik Yak is the #3 app on iTunes top free apps. On Yik Yak, people can anonymously share their thoughts, observations and comments. Ideally, Yik Yak is the digital equivalent of a message board in a college coffee shop. When the app trickled in to high schools, teens did not use it this way. Instead, students posted hateful comments about fellow classmates and teachers. Recently, I received a question about Yik Yak and how schools, parents and teens can work together to take control of it.
Q: What about YikYak, the anonymous service similar to twitter? Now that it’s in our community, how are schools and parents partnering to keep our kids safe?
A: The appeal of Yik Yak is complete anonymity to say anything you want. Yik Yak does not even have usernames. I have more information about Yik Yak in my Parent’s Guide to Yik Yak, but here is a quick overview. Yik Yak does resemble a local twitter feed. Teens can share “Yaks” with other users who are within 1.5 miles of them. Yaks are short messages limited to 200 characters. Once posted, other users can reply to it or promote it within Yik Yak by voting it up or down. Upvoting is essentially a like and downvoting a dislike. They can also share Yaks on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
When Yik Yak first appeared, it gained notoriety for teens using it to post bomb threats and slam classmates. Police investigated these threats and schools rushed in to ban the app. In the face of this bad publicity, Yik Yak stepped in with its own solution. They chose to place geofences around all the middle schools and high schools in the US. A geofence shuts off all access to the app within 1.5 miles of the school.
Yik Yak has placed geofences around 85% of all high schools and middle schools in the US. If your school does not have one, school administrators can contact Yik Yak and they will create one. Shutting off the app during school hours does reduce the reach of the app. Teens can still post after school but now it is seen by people 1.5 miles from their house. It is the difference between shouting in the school hallways vs. shouting on the street. Gossip can still spread but not as quickly or easily. Parents can also attempt to stop teens downloading this app at home by changing the restrictions on iTunes or GooglePlay.
Banning alone is not the solution. School, parents and students need to work together to change the culture around these anonymous apps. Teens need to realize that anonymity is not a license to say anything they want without repercussions. They are still responsible for their words. On Yik Yak, they are not as anonymous as they may think. When a student posted a bomb threat on this app, the police were able to find him and arrest him. All of our phones carry a unique device ID that can be traced. No one is completely anonymous online.
Teens have a role to play in governing the use of this app. Sometimes, kids are afraid to stick up for someone online because of the fear of reprisals. By speaking up, they can become the target of the abuse as well as unintentionally feed the internet fire. On Yik Yak, teens can moderate this feed without fear. They can downvote the type of content they don’t want to see without anyone knowing who they are. When a yak receives a score of -5, it is removed. If a person’s content is continually downvoted or flagged, Yik Yak will ban them. Furthermore, they can encourage the type of content they want to see by upvoting it.
While researching Yik Yak, I discovered another app that was already moving in to take its place and this one allows pictures. There is always a new app around the corner. Instead of chasing apps, communities need to come together to incorporate digital citizenship in schools, support parents on having the digital talk at home, and teach kids and teens the value of making good choices online. We are still developing social norms for a wired world, it is important to work together to create a supportive atmosphere for our children both online and off.
For more information: