Problematic apps that are popular with kids and full of inappropriate content keep popping up. It's like a game of whack-a-mole: just when you get a handle on one and smack it down, another one pops up. The latest offender: the app Yik Yak.
Parents could be fooled by the friendly-looking yak logo, but hiding behind the cute face is an app that's causing big problems in schools around the country. Students used Yik Yak to spread rumors of possible school violence at high schools in Mobile, Alabama last week and in Marblehead, Massachusetts yesterday. There are a lot of problems with apps and I've written about a lot of them. This app, however, seems particularly egregious. That it is being used to cause fear and panic in our schools makes it particularly abhorrent to me.
This week, a middle school in Georgia sent home a letter warning parents about the "potentially inflammatory app." It has been used by kids to cyberbully others with posts so hateful a Philadelphia school changed its policy of allowing smartphones.
The new Yik Yak app launched just three months ago that Tech Crunch reports has more than 100,000 users and 15,000 messages sent each day. It's spreading like wildfire. Here's what parents need to know
* The app store states "You must be at least 17 years old to download this app." That is apparently not stopping anyone.
* Yik Yak allows anonymous comments or posts done using an alias.
* Users believe that there is no way to trace the source of the messages, but police were able to arrest a juvenile after investigators learned where the post was made after receiving help from Yik Yak.
* The anonymity leads to posts described by the middle school principal in Georgia as "especially vicious and hurtful." The anonymity and use of aliases makes it ripe for use as a cyberbullying tool, which has certainly happened. Philly.com described posts sent by kids about others as "hateful" and noted that it was used to defame a deceased student.
* Yik Yak knows your location and allows users to discover a live feed of Yaks (or messages) posted by people within 5 to 10 miles of their location. Posters choose to share with the closest 100, 250, or 500 Yik Yak users.
* Users have to be signed into the app to receive the messages, but they don’t have to have an account.
* The app encourages discussion of "anything and everything" and encourages "share your stories anonymously and get upvotes if people like it." (If you need a tool to help explain to kids what stories should and should not be shared online, check out this post.)
* The description of it in the App Store says "What happens on Yik Yak, stays on Yik Yak." Kids are misled by such statements seeming to promise privacy, which sound similar to Snapchat. Of course, app users cannot control what happens to posts on the internet which can end up anywhere and read by anyone.
* The app was developed by students at Furman University and was intended for use on college campuses. This app has followed the path of many trends and has trickled down to younger kids, so Yik Yak is now big in high school and even middle schools. Schools have objected to Yik Yak, saying it violated their anti-bullying policies.
* Yik Yak offers two ways to report inappropriate content. One way is to have two people select the comment and click the report inappropriate button. The other is emailing a screen shot of offensive content to firstname.lastname@example.org for immediate removal.
"Parents need to ... beware of what their children are doing that means checking their Facebook, checking their phone, checking their texts. It's too late to find out when your child has made an anonymous threat that could subject them to a lengthy sentence," Juvenile Judge Edmond Naman told WKRG.
Do you have a contract with your kid(s) stating your expectations of good digital citizenship? You can find, download and print one here.
There are several other apps that are popular with tweens but not always safe. Check out the Tween Us guides for parents:
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