The app Yik Yak is still popular and still a problem

The app Yik Yak is still popular and still a problem

The app Yik Yak is back in the news again, and it is still a place where hateful comments are found in abundance.

For those who aren't familiar, Yik Yak is a free mobile app that lets users send and read anonymous messages. There are no profiles and no names are attached to any posts. Users see posts within a 10 mile radius and they can also expand the conversation by posting replies to existing posts. It is available for both iOS and Android.

I first wrote about Yik Yak last March here when it was making headlines after anonymous posters used it as a forum for vicious cyberbullying and to make bomb threats against schools, resulting in school closures. Not surprising, given that anonymity seems to breed such behavior online.

It was initially intended for use on college campuses but as the school issues show, it quickly caught on with tweens and teens. Some municipalities, including Chicago, loudly raised concerns and the creators of Yik Yak responded by disabling the app in the city. Yik Yak also increased the age of users from 12 to 17.

Victory, right?

Nope.

I hoped, naively so, that Yik Yak would go away. There's always a new app around the corner and I thought perhaps this vile one would get enough negative press that it would slink back into the shadows. The shutdowns by local communities fostered my optimism.

I was wrong. In November, Yik Yak raised $62 million in venture capital fundraising. Based on that figure alone, it seems safe to say that Yik Yak isn't going anywhere for a while.

The New York Times published an article today titled "Who Spewed That Abuse? Anonymous Yik Yak App Isn’t Telling," detailing the awful statements people make on Yik Yak, including abusive comments, sexual harassment, and ethnic slurs.

"Yik Yak is the Wild West of anonymous social apps," law professor Danielle Keats Citron and the author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, says in the article. “It is being increasingly used by young people in a really intimidating and destructive way.”

The article also examines what has happened in the past year regarding Yik Yak and young users, including upping the age for use. Yik Yak's Terms of Use state "If you are not at least 17 years old, you may not use the Services at any time or in any manner or submit any information to the Yik Yak or the Services." Given the number of middle schoolers who have a variety of accounts intended for those over age 17, however, that's highly ineffective.

“We made the app for college kids, but we quickly realized it was getting into the hands of high schoolers, and high schoolers were not mature enough to use it,” Droll told the New York Times.

Creators Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington also say they have built "geo-fences" around round about 90 percent of the nation’s high schools and middle schools. The issue, however, hasn't been solved. Turns out those geo-fences cover only a small area and kids are using it elsewhere.

So, what's a parent to do?  Here are what I see as some of the parental take aways here:

* Age limits on apps are arbitrary and parents need to be involved.

Age limits posted on apps are not absolutes. Parents likely looked at Yik Yak a year ago, saw the 12+ and thought "my kid is old enough to use this." The creators of the app have now said that wasn't the case.

Parents need to look at apps themselves, preferably with their kids, and make a case by case determination based on both the app and the individual child.

After your child is using an app, keep tabs on it and know what they're seeing there. Kids will never say that they need adult guidance, but adolescents encountering hate speech for the first time could use some wise counsel from a trusted grown-up. Hopefully, they aren't pros at handling it already.

 * Along those lines, the internet is a tough place to navigate.

I know, that seems obvious, but I think a lot of parents forget what a minefield it is for all young people, be they in middle school or even in college, as the New York Times article illustrates. The vitriol directed at college students shouldn't have surprised me, but it did, and my heart broke for those students who were trying to make a positive change.

The article points out that the options regarding Yik Yak are limited. As parents, though, we do have options and several ways to ensure that we raise our kids to be kind and compassionate, both online and in real life.

* Tell your kids where you stand on Yik Yak and similar sites where hateful speech flourishes.

There is no app that is all good or all bad. There never will be. But some sites, especially those that offer anonymity, seem to breed hate speech. Talking about Yik Yak is a great chance for parents to make their values clear to their kids.

If you're not okay with your kid being part of a community where this awful communication occurs without accountability, let them know that.

Tell your kids that you think accountability online is important. If they are thinking of saying/posting/sharing/commenting online, kids should think twice. The rule in our house is that when doing anything online, first be sure that you'd be comfortable signing your name and presenting it to your grandparents.

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Filed under: Parenting, Technology

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