Yik Yak App Could be Tool for Cyberbullying

Students and educators at Connecticut's Greenwich High School are concerned about the new social media app.


A new social-media app is the talk of Greenwich High School in Connecticut -- but much of the "yakking" is raising students' and educators' concerns.

Yik Yak allows users to anonymously send posts, known as "yaks," to others nearby. While the service has similarities to other social networks, it seems particularly effective for harassment or gossip.

Neither a profile nor a password is needed to yak. Communication is made based on proximity: Using phones' GPS capabilities, yaks go out to the 500 closest users within a five-mile radius of the sender.

"It's basically this area where anyone really can post about people, and it's really unregulated and unfettered," Guillermo Perez, Greenwich High's student government president, said at last Thursday's Board of Education meeting. "If you probably think that it's a recipe for disaster, considering the tragedy that happened on the first day of school, we're very concerned that this could spiral out of control."

Perez was referring to the August 2013 death of Greenwich High sophomore Bart Palosz, who took his own life hours after the first day of classes. The correlation, if any, between the allegedly intense bullying that Palosz endured and his death has been widely debated. But there is broad agreement in the Greenwich High community that bullying through social media can be destructive.

A perusal of Greenwich students' yaks reveal that they mirror those of their peers in Fairfield County and other parts of the country. Many are harmless, at worst nonsensical and absurd. Many are profane. Derogatory yaks are made about specifically named individuals.

Earlier this month, the district blocked Yik Yak on Greenwich High's wireless network.

"Yik Yak and several more apps that allow students to post anonymous comments create a large challenge for us and all high schools," said Greenwich High Headmaster Chris Winters. "We are working with our students to educate them about the benefits and dangers of social-media sites. Like it or not, and I don't like it, these sites are now part of the landscape, and students have to learn how to navigate their existence wisely."

Many Greenwich parents are aware of Yik Yak.

"I've heard about Yik Yak from my daughters and think, by nature, it can be abused," said Blakely Stinebaugh, a Greenwich High PTA co-president. "I have talked to them about responsibility, and neither of my kids use it."

Yik Yak has stirred attention and debate beyond Greenwich, as it has become popular on high school and college campuses around the country. Elsewhere, its use has already caused trouble. CNN reported this month that a yak caused a bomb scare on a Southern California high school campus.

The app's rules prohibit bullying or specifically targeting other yakkers and warn against cluttering other users' feeds with "useless" or "offensive" yaks. Users whose yaks are continually down-voted or reported are warned and then suspended. Yik Yak rules also stipulate that "no one under college age" should be on Yik Yak.

Greenwich High prohibits cyberbullying. As with other social media, however, the local herd of yakkers essentially operates beyond the district's control off campus.

Carol Sutton, president of the Greenwich Education Association, the district's teachers union, described Yik Yak as "very troubling."

"Parents and teachers -- we must all be role models for digital citizenship," she said at Thursday's board meeting. "And I ask the board to do whatever it takes to ensure that our students get a full curriculum in digital citizenship, along with their devices."

©2014 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.)