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Yik Yak: Are your kids and teens victims of this app?

Yik Yak: Are your kids and teens victims of this app?
Yik Yak: Are your kids and teens victims of this app?CNN

YikYak which is a relatively new free app that can downloaded on your smartphone for free, launched just three months ago and has a reported 100,000 users plus with 15,000 messages sent daily.

While the founders insist that it’s only for college students and that anonymity means “the only thing you are judged on is the content that you have created.” However, Yik Yak enables unchecked, hateful cyberbullying and reckless use and has already resulted in fake shooting and bomb threats, prompting school evacuations in high schools from Alabama to Illinois. A high school in Marblehead, MA was evacuated twice due to bomb threats made via the app.

According to CNN, Yik Yak has been causing vicious bullying that some students equate to “a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.”

Yik Yak allows anybody to post anything they want and remain entirely anonymous at the same time. Parents could be fooled by the friendly-looking yak logo, but hiding behind the cute face is an app that's causing big problems. The description of it in the App Store says "What happens on Yik Yak, stays on Yik Yak." Kids are misled by statements to promise privacy, which sound similar to Snapchat.

The app store states "You must be at least 17 years old to download this app." This is not stopping those under the age of 17.

Yik Yak can have frequent and intense sexual content, nudity, profanity, crude humor, and references to alcohol, tobacco, or drug use. It allows anonymous comments or posts done using an alias. Although Yik Yak claims anonymity, police were able to arrest a juvenile after investigators learned where the post was made. 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 the sharing of stories anonymously and get upvotes if people like them/

Its developers say "it's an open space where anyone can talk about anything." Yik Yak co-founder Brooks Buffington told CNN that “the app was made for college-age users and older to acts as a virtual bulletin board for college campuses. With anonymity comes a lot of responsibility and college students have the maturity that it takes to handle those responsibilities.”

Possibly Yik Yak’s co-founder is not aware that there is a great deal of bullying on college campuses across the country. And the middle and high schoolers who have been using Yik Yak do not have that same alleged maturity that it takes to handle those responsibilities.

Yik Yak opens doors to cyberbullying – especially in the hands of younger users.

Problematic apps that are popular with kids lend to posting inappropriate content keep cropping up. Yik Yak is just one of the latest offenders.

This app 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 yikyakapp@gmail.com for immediate removal.

"It's a useless piece of social media and it's not going to be any good for any school district," said a school system's chief information officer in Mobile, Alabama, where two teens were arrested in February for a school shooting threat posted to Yik Yak.

In Chicago, where at least four schools have already sent letters home warning parents about Yik Yak, a school administrator e-mailed parents, telling them, "The problem, as you might imagine, is that the anonymity is empowering certain individuals to post comments about others that are hurtful, harassing and sometimes quite disturbing."

Similar letters have gone out in several other districts around the country, with many encouraging parents to delete the app from their children's phones and talk to them about being what many schools refer to as a good "digital citizen."

Buffington told CNN they've decided to block access to the app throughout Chicago as a result of the trouble sprouting up there. More broadly, he says Yik Yak is planning to geosense "every high school and middle school in America" to automatically disable the app within those locations. He expects the geosense will be active "in the next few weeks." Teens can, of course, still access it from their homes or anywhere else, but there's little Yik Yak can do about that.

While the posters on YikYak may be anonymous, the posts aren’t screened for identifying information before they’re broadcast to the nearest 500 users. You can even pay to extend your reach — up to 10,000 users for $4.99–as if in-app purchases aren’t a problem enough, now kids can use them to bully other kids.

Another app that parents should know about is Secret. You can add this playground for cyberbullying and other digital harassment to YikYak, Snapchat, selfie.im, tumblr and ask.fm .

Secret’s users can vote posts up or down, which broadens their audience. The content isn’t much better either; according to a post described by the Wall Street Journal, “Secret is like being drunk on Facebook with no consequences.”

A June 2013 study from McAfee contains this frightening statistic—even though 88 percent of the more than 1,000 10 - 23-year-olds surveyed said their parents trust them to make the right decision about posting personal information online, 86 percent still post anything from a picture to name, phone number and address.

It gets worse, too—you think you know what your kids are up to, but the survey says, "not so much." Of the 13 - 17-year-olds surveyed, 73 percent said their parents only know part of what they're doing online. Meanwhile 58 percent of tweens and 65 percent of teens claim to know how to hide their online behavior from their parents.

The apps aren’t going away. And there will be more who think they are the next Mark Zuckerberg wanting to make billions just to create the newest unsafe app for your kids.

Parents – communicate with your kids and teens about what apps they use. Discuss all of the consequences of using these apps. Ask them what they would do if they were to become targets on these apps. Discuss responsible digital citizenship. Have these discussion often!

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