“K. is a slut.”
“No one asked H. to prom because no one has a forklift.”
Those were some of the cruel messages students were writing about one another on a buzzy new anonymous gossip app last week.
“That’s what made it all the more shocking, that good people I like and I’m friendly with can write this stuff, all this terrible stuff,” 18-year-old Will Haskell told Business Insider.
Haskell, a senior at Staples High School in the super-affluent town of Westport, Connecticut, is talking about Yik Yak, the anonymous gossip app that “brought Staples to a halt” last Thursday morning. He detailed what happened that morning in a personal essay for New York magazine.
Anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, sexist, and downright mean messages were aimed at the nerds, the jocks, the popular kids, the pretty seniors, and the awkward freshman.
No one knew who exactly was writing the messages (was it your worst enemy or your best friend?) and no one was safe. People who might have been considered to be likely authors for the hateful posts were, just seconds later, targets of anonymous bullying themselves.
Students left school crying; some didn’t come back the next day.
Even the teachers were being written about, and, by the time the principal, John Dodig, made an exasperated announcement over the loudspeaker urging students to delete the app, it was too late. By that point, it had spread like wildfire, destroying everything in its path.
And it took only three hours.
So here’s what you need to know.
What Is Yik Yak, Exactly?
Yik Yak is an app that allows anyone to post anything without attaching themselves to a username (you don’t even need a password to log in.) The timeline of Yik Yak looks like Twitter or Reddit, without photos or handles:
It’s extremely localised; anyone within 1.5 miles of a message can read it.
The fact that the network is built on physical proximity is key: If you open Yik Yak in the middle of Times Square, it’s unlikely the app will be of any benefit to you. If you open it in the middle of a high-school cafeteria, brace yourself.
Who’s Using Yik Yak?
The app is becoming extremely popular with high schoolers who have heard about it from their friends at other high schools who have heard it from their friends from other high schools. It’s a severe case of word-of-mouth.
Think of the app like a drug. They haven’t heard good things about the app but they want to take a risk and see what happens if they download and use it.
Lots of schools have had terrible experiences with Yik Yak, not just Staples. In fact, Haskell tells Business Insider that the app was introduced to Staples via a student who’d heard about it from a friend at Fairfield Warde High School in Connecticut.
The Chicago Tribune reported in March that at least two Chicago-area high schools had sent home letters to parents about Yik Yak.
In March, Business Insider reported on another high school, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where students were spreading rumours and gossiping on the app.
Yik Yak Hits Like A Hurricane
Haskell said students started hearing about the app about 10 on Thursday morning. By 1 o’clock, the administration had managed to get the app blocked within the walls of the school, but it was too late.
Casey Palmer, a student at Fairfield Warde High School, told Inklings News a similar story. She said the hype from Yik Yak only lasted one day. But the damage lasted much longer.
Can’t the authors of the posts have their identities uncovered?
Only if the post is criminally offensive.
In California, a 17-year-old high school student was charged with three felony counts of making a terrorist threat earlier this month after he allegedly posted on Yik Yak that a shooting would occur at two local high schools. The student thought the threat would be “funny” and untraceable, according to a news release from the Reedley Police Department.
Elsewhere, in Mobile, Ala., a 16-year-old and 14-year-old from the area were reportedly charged with making terroristic threats after allegedly using Yik Yak to announce forthcoming shootings at local high schools.
But you can’t start a criminal investigation for someone who calls someone else ugly or fat. And we all remember high school; self-esteem is already low.
Being attacked about appearance, intelligence, or social class can do irreparable damage to a young teenager.
What do the creators of Yik Yak think of what’s been happening?
Fox News talked to the creators, 23-year-olds Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll. The two recent college graduates who designed the app using geo-fencing technology to create countless small communities.
They did not expect their app would be popular with young teenagers, even though it feels like that’s the target demographic, considering it feeds off the locations of its users. Like we stated earlier, Yik Yak is pointless if you’re in the middle of a big city.
“We’re proactively trying to keep high schoolers off the app,” Droll said. “It’s being used very well at colleges. We think psychologically high schoolers aren’t ready to use our app.”
What can you do to prevent Yik Yak from making it inside the walls of your child’s high school or middle school?
1. You can alert the administration of Will Haskell’s well-written essay for New York Magazine. It’s a compelling argument against Yik Yak, but also will remind you that word-of-mouth is a powerful tool for teenagers. Yik Yak is hardly advertised anywhere. He tells a story that could come out of any high school in America.
2. You can block Yik Yak within the school by asking district officials to request that Yik Yak utilise its GPS technology (you can learn more about how exactly they do that here) to block access to the app. Don’t wait until the students hear about Yik Yak’s existence to begin the process of blocking it.
So far, Yik Yak has been successfully blocked at three middle schools and two high schools within the Fairfield, Connecticut school district.
3. You can change the settings on your teenagers phone, since Yik Yak has now been rated 17+ by the creators. Go to “Settings,” select “General” and tap “Enable Restrictions.”
It’s too late for Staples and Fairfield Warde High Schools to protect themselves. What are they going to do now?
Business Insider spoke to Staples High School Principal John Dodig last week about what happened with Yik Yak.
“All the work that we’ve done over the last ten years that I’ve been here is to ensure that we have an environment in school that is safe, where kids can be whatever they want, and nobody gets thrown into a locker,” Dodig told us.
He said he remembered being in high school himself, where the only place you could anonymously write something mean about someone else for others to see was with a permanent marker on the bathroom stall.
He acknowledges technology is changing, but the foundation of teaching right and wrong, good and bad, is something that has to be kept in place.
“What Yik Yak showed me is that we have continue to do what we’re doing and even improve so that we maintain a great environment within our school walls.”
Haskell echoed Dodig’s remarks, saying he had a great four years at Staples, and considers his classmates from all of the various cliques to be good people. But teenagers will be teenagers: if they are given an anonymous way to test the waters, whether it’s to be mean or just to shock, they will give into the temptation.
“At one point in our history you had to be six feet tall, 200 pounds to bully somebody, now you can be 80 pounds. You can be a freshman; your target can be a senior. All you need is a cell phone.”
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