This social media world we live in is so vast I can’t imagine I will ever wrap my head around even a fraction of it. I was reminded of this while teaching one of my students last week. I have mentioned before I teach privately in the evenings, so the kids have every opportunity to have a quick chat about what has gone on in their lives over the past week. On Wednesday, one of my students opened my eyes to the world of the Yik Yak app. “It has taken over our school in a matter of a 3 days!” she told me excitedly and continued to explain what its function is as I had only heard of it in passing. Yik Yak is an application that uses GPS and instant messaging simultaneously, allowing the user to share Yaks (similar to a tweet) anonymously to those within a ten mile radius and more specifically a 1.5 mile radius. Yaks do not typically last longer than an hour and are measured for popularity in a variety of ways. The intention to connect a community on a variety of topics such as a really cool band playing down the street or a great sale at the local clothing store. Sounds leading and a little dangerous though right?
So here’s a bit of background. The Yik Yak app was created by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington (they learned to design apps in a college course together). One is a former med student and one put his career in finance on hold in order to devote his time to Yik Yak. Yik Yak was launched in November 2013 and within one year, with secured investors, is worth of over 350 million. Within six months of its release, Yik Yak was the 9th most downloaded application in the United States. Talk about going viral!
Yakarma: A numerical score based on the number of responses by users in your area or “group”. Measures popularity. DownVotes will negatively affect your Yakarma.
UpVote/DownVote: Do they like your Yak or do they not like your Yak? This is how they show you (anonymously…). If users in your “group” give you five DownVotes, your Yak will be deleted (not that it lasts longer than an hour anyway). If they like ya, UpVote!!!! Remember, lots of UpVotes means your Yakarma will go up. Right.
Peek: For the uber secretive and nosy mom or you know, stalker. Allows you to “peek” into groups outside of your 1.5 mile radius. You cannot however, Upvote, DownVote or Flag.
New/Hot Tags: Keeps Yaks at the top based on popularity.
Flag: Allows users to immediately delete Yaks they find offensive or ones they simply don’t want up there.
It’s easy to see why my grade 10 high school student was excited. But she’s a smart girl and it didn’t take long to realise how hurtful this app had the potential to be. She wasn’t excited because she thought it was fantastic. When she told me one of the more harmless posts was a comment on the size of her friends breasts and how lovely she was to look at so long as she didn’t open her mouth, I very quickly reminded her that this was sexual harassment. The worst however was a post mocking the innocent victims of the Holocaust. This one she flagged immediately. What struck me, was not only the ignorance behind the comment but its violent approach. I was shocked!.
Many schools throughout the Ottawa region have had a negative experience with Yik Yak. GeoFencing (a tool used to prevent cyber bullying, gives the ability to block the app within a certain radius) them from their Wi-Fi but most kids have 3G so this doesn’t seem to help much, although a good effort on the part of the creators. Students from four Ottawa high schools were left out in the cold after fire alarms were pulled within two hours of each other yesterday. Police believe Yik Yak was used by students to dare one another into doing it. I am sure we will continue to hear more stories in the news.
In a time when we are trying so hard to prevent cyberbullying it seems ironic this app should even exist. The intentions seemed good but logic could predict the outcome. With the recent Charlie Hebdo killings we are reminded of the importance of freedom of speech but at what cost? And what is “freedom of speech” if you are hiding behind the name “anonymous”? How many youths will continue to take their lives as a result of cyberbullying and why do we keep giving not yet developed brains the ability to do such horrible things to one another without consequence? Is it our fault?
Do you think apps like this should have the right to exist? How do you think we can curb cyberbullying? What do you think will be next?