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Yik Yak disables app in Chicago amid bullying concerns

Yik Yak, a new social networking app, has been disabled in the Chicago area amid concerns that it fuels bullying in schools.
March 7, 2014 9:39:34 AM PST
There's no shortage of new social networking apps, but a new one has some school administrators worried it's fueling bullying.

Yik Yak anonymously connects up to 500 people who are physically close to each other. There are no accounts or usernames, which is allowing some to post thoughts that are best left unsaid. Yik Yak now says it is disabling the app in the Chicago area.

The app has a playful name, but some of the messages posted on Yik Yak were apparently anything but innocent. The people behind the app are now taking action after parents were asked to remove the app from their kids' phones.

On Thursday night, users of Yik Yak are encountering this screen as the decision by the app to disable its own service in the Chicago area was surprising to tech-watchers.

"This kind of pulling from a particular town, city, region is - if not unprecedented - extremely rare," said Brad Spirrison, Appolicious.

The move comes after administrators at Whitney Young High School, New Trier, and Lake Forest High School sent letters to parents warning them of Yik Yak.

The spinning yak promises the latest gossip in a school cafeteria. At Whitney Young High School, an email from administrators Wednesday warned this latest "virtual bathroom wall" had the potential to do great damage, primarily because users aren't identified.

"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 Asst. Vice Principal Melvin Soto, Whitney Young High School.

The school has blocked Yik Yak on its WiFi, but those with data plans can access it anywhere, anytime. So the objective is to get kids to write with a conscience. Many said they were disturbed by the tone of yik-yak.

"I downloaded it last night and I am considering deleting it right now. It has gotten old fast," said Jeron Dastrup, senior, Whitney Young High School.

"They ripped on someone about getting raped. That's so wrong. They said a whole lot of things about this girl but you knew that was the one that really got to her," said Rachel Brown, junior, Whitney Young High School.

"I feel it is very much a disgrace to anyone who comments on it, it is nothing more than rumors, it doesn't bring anyone up," said Yazmyne Adams, junior, Whitney Young High School.

That was New Trier High School's reasoning for denouncing yik-Yak as an invitation to bullying.

New Trier said in a statement: "While we know we cannot eliminate all of these apps and social networks that offer anonymity to our students, we can work together to help them understand how the digital footprint they leave now may affect them and others for years to come."

This isn't the first time Yik Yak has made headlines.

Bomb threats posted on the app have led to schools being evacuated in California, Massachusetts, Georgia, and elsewhere.

"I think that administrators are barraged in this day and age with new technologies and how to address them," said Prof. William Kling, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Law professor William Kling helped write Illinois' anti-bullying law.

"School administrators, their job is to balance the educational benefit with maintaining a safe environment. So they must have seen something that made them question that balance," said Kling.

Exactly how long the app will be disabled in the Chicago area is unclear. A spokesperson for Yik Yak says it's looking at technical ways to prevent its use in high schools and middle schools.


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