The Yik Yak app logo. Photo Courtesy of Yik Yak
Privacy in the digital age is a hot topic, but what if too much privacy poses a problem in the form of anonymity? Enter Yik Yak, a social media app designed in 2013 for users to anonymously discuss local happenings on a virtual bulletin board within a 1.5 mile radius of their phone. Many discussions skew toward the negative, and has Croton-Harmon’s superintendent taking steps to block access and put a stop to the offensive comments targeting staff and students, primarily through the use of a “geo-fence”: a virtual perimeter that will block access within a specified radius.
“We have had specific examples in which people, both staff and students, have been harmed,” says Dr. Edward Fuhrman, Superintendent of Schools for the Croton-Harmon School District. “Banning something is not the ultimate solution. Not everyone thinks it’s is a great idea, but in schools we have an obligation to protect our children.”
Jack Bunting, a public relations manager for Yik Yak, says the company understands small groups of users may misuse the app. They have worked with police in the past to identify anonymous users who post threats and block most elementary and high schools from accessing the app. Dr. Fuhrman recently followed up their previous request to Yik Yak to make sure their geo-fence is still active and also reached out to local authorities for help. Even more, Dr. Fuhrman seeks to encourage parents to teach and support their children in practicing safe social media use.
“What do you do to take a stand and say ‘Not on our watch’?” says Dr. Fuhrman. “The reality of it is that you want kids to monitor themselves, and I think parents are the key. We want to teach kids how people can get hurt on social media, and how to deal with certain situations.”
Despite Yik Yak’s App Store description saying its purpose is to “create quality content and receive up votes from other members of your community,” the app has spurred more than a few yaks throughout New York over the past few years. A Yorktown high school student was arrested after saying the school would explode, a Suffolk county high school student was arrested after making a similar threat, and students at Colgate University held a campus sit-in for three days to protest racist messages left on the app and other social media sites.
“We need parents’ help by asking them to speak with their child about the appropriate use of social media,” says Dr. Fuhrman.