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Yik Yak: Anonymous messaging app 'Yik Yak' stoking school cyberbullying fears

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Yik Yak, an anonymous social chat app, is coming under fire by teachers, parents and others for ostensibly being nothing but a platform to spew hateful, toxic cyber-bullying banter while hiding behind faceless, social site anonymity. According to Today.com on April 30, the location-based app is wreaking and causing problems on middle school and high school campuses across the United States. "The smartphone app that launched last December takes cyberbullying to a whole new level, critics say: A growing number of users and a lack of accountability can be a dangerous combination," writes Today.

App co-creator Brooks Buffington explains how it works: “The app was made for college-age users or above, for college campuses and to act as a virtual bulletin board, so it acts as local Twitter for their campus,” Buffington said, adding that the app already has “a couple hundred thousand users, mainly in Southeast/East coast campuses,” despite being rolled out only a few months ago.

Similar to Twitter, there is a character limit (200 is the max). No pictures are allowed on Yik Yak, and the app works along with GPS positioning on a Smartphone to create a virtual chat room which can accommodate up to 500 users at one time.

But in this day of cyberbullying, students are ramping up use of Yik Yak to deliver nasty insults while hiding behind their cowardice shield of anonymity. As schools progressively become aware of this new app, many have now taken the step to ban it, as the video above showed. In fact, the Daily Mail reports that over 130,000 schools nationwide have banned the use of Yik Yak in their hallways and on school grounds.

As per NakedSecurity.com: “In fact, the application supposedly restricts use to those over the age of 17, in acknowledgement of the idea that it takes a bit of maturity to post comments anonymously about the people and things around us without it turning into a YouTube-comments-like toxic waste dump.”

However, much like other sites that “restrict” minors, there is no way to actually prevent someone from simply lying and gaining access to the app. At Whitney Young High School in Chicago, students and faculty spoke out about Yik Yak.

“Students were actually coming downstairs to talk to administration, and they were mentioning remarks posted and student names that were obvious, so of course that is going to impact you,” said Melvin Soto, assistant vice principal at Whitney Young. One student spoke about comments made over a rape case. “They ripped on someone for getting raped, and that's just so wrong. They said a whole lot of bad things about this girl,” Whitney Young student Rachel Brown said.

CNN says “some students have compared it to a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.” Fellow Atlanta-area entrepreneur and Yik Yak creator Tyler Droll spoke of the monster that he and Brooks evidently created: "We definitely did not make the app for this. We are doing everything in our power to stop that happening," Droll said, adding that they have cooperated with all of the schools that have banned the app and are even using GPS to pinpoint users activating the app on campuses where the app is now banned.

"Our goal with Yik Yak was to create an open forum for mobile users to easily communicate, or Yak with one another, providing a virtual bulletin board of sorts for community engagement within a specific location," Droll said. But the app has unfortunately been used for far worse. According to Boston CBS Local, the misuse of the app caused a high school to be evacuated – twice.

The Chicago Tribune reports that “at least four Chicago-area high schools issued warnings about Yik Yak in the past two weeks, with most principals asking parents to remove the app from their children's phones and make sure the teens don't reinstall it.” And the Los Angeles Times said that schools in Beverly Hills and San Clemente were recently put on lockdown because of hoaxes spread via Yik Yak.

The above articles are just a smattering of the negative opinions and press that the app has already created. And the fact that it’s only a few months old is a menacing thought.

As with all social activity, it comes down to the parents to inform, and monitor if need be, their child’s use of social media. Here are 10 tips from Safer Internet Day 2014, linked on NakedSecurity.com, to get you started.

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