Recently, our high school principal sent out a warning about a smart phone app called Yik Yak. I'm happy he did because if you're the parent of a child in high school, you NEED to know about it.
Yik Yak is a social media site that allows users to post anonymously; they do not have to sign-up nor do they need to declare a user name. Users post comments, questions, or claims about others without assuming any responsibility for their words. They can share posts with those within a 1.5 mile radius, meaning they can target people they both know and don't know. As such, Yik Yak threads have become a platform for libel, drug discussions, sexual suggestions, and cyber bullying. Schools and sometimes even the police cannot identify individuals' postings on Yik Yak.
The app is set up with game-like features that give users the power to “control what is hot” by “up voting” and “down voting” other people's posts. The continuous tally of your “up votes” is called a Yakarma score with users encouraged to “create quality content” to achieve a higher score. In other words, the juicer your posts, the higher your Yakarma score will be. If a post receives five “down votes,” the user's Yakarma score goes down and the post is deleted. Sure, this sounds positive, but it's not because users can “up vote” harmful postings, thus providing negative reinforcement.
The most disturbing thing about Yik Yak are the repercussions posts can have. Someone can post a salacious rumor about your child which can spread like wildfire on their high school campus and neither you nor they have any way of knowing who posted it. Any defense made will certainly not get the amount of views that the initial rumor received. In other words, Yik Yak renders your kid defenseless against their peers.
I downloaded the app last night and was immediately disgusted by the amount of sexual comments, racist remarks, references to drugs, sexism, homophobia, and just plain meanness of so many posts. There are some really depraved people on Yik Yak. No wonder at least one psychiatrist has dubbed it “the most dangerous app out there” (read his article here).
So what can we as parents do? Grab your high schooler's phone and/or table and see if they have Yik Yak downloaded. If they do, ask why they have it and discuss with them what would happen if they or one of their friends was targeted in a post. Help them to see how destructive the app actually is – a discussion with you can be extremely valuable.
My son and I talked about Yik Yak and I was relieved to see, for myself, that he does not have it on any of his devices. He said he's heard about it from friends and, in his words, “it's evil.” That's now. He could give in to peer pressure in the future. As I always do, I'll be monitoring his electronics to see what he's downloading. Cyber-beasts like Yik Yak are out there. It's up to us, as parents, to protect our kids as much as possible.
For more on Yik Yak, please visit the sources I used for this article: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/yik-yak-anagram-hot-mess; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/yik-yak-app-makers-do-the_b_5029679.html; http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html; http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-yik-yak-2014-5.
1) This post originally appeared on The Geek Parent.
2) The makers of Yik Yak are now cooperating with various high schools to render the app useless. I think that's admirable, but it doesn't prevent the evil, verbal diarrhea from appearing off school grounds. Your best bet: keep your high schooler OFF the Yik Yak entirely.