Far be it for high-schoolers to see a new app that can serve a valuable purpose and not ruin it immediately. That’s what’s happening with Yik Yak, an app that provides a bulletin board to small communities based on geographic location.
Targeted toward college campuses, the app has been described as a combination of Twitter and Reddit: Short, anonymous posts can be shared and readers can upvote or downvote what is said. The one caveat to Yik Yak is that you don’t need a username or even a password to log in and post—it’s completely anonymous.
So it should actually come as no surprise that it took no time for high schoolers to make Yik Yak the bullying app du jour. As they spend nearly eight hours a day trapped on the same campus together, what better way to attack classmates than via a cell phone app that only broadcasts to those people physically closest to you?
For students in Chicago, Connecticut, and even Marblehead, Massachusetts, there is no better way, and that’s become troubling to high school administrators, parents, and even the creators of the app, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington.
Marblehead High School was evacuated twice last week after threats were made vis Yik Yak, according to CBS Boston.
In a thorough explainer of these issues, Business Insider’s Caroline Moss detailed how little there is that can be done to solve Yik Yak’s bullying problem. The way the app is constructed means users can only be identified if they post something potentially dangerous.
Citing two instances of shooting threats, one in California and one in Alabama, Moss contrasted how authorities might view the severity of “criminally offensive” posts and posts by “someone who calls someone else ugly or fat.”
Since there won’t be any police investigations into the latter, schools are working to diminish the app’s impact by using GPS technology to block students’ access to it while on campus. Parents are also trying to help by enabling restrictions on their children’s phones.
As for Droll and Buffington, they’re working to shift the app back toward the intended audience. The app has settings that won’t allow anyone younger than 17 years old to use it and will remove posts that are flagged as offensive by two or more users. They are also working on adding a tool that will sense when posters are posting from a high school or middle school, enabling the app to tell users that they cannot post from that location.
But for now, there’s not much else that can be done. Parents can talk to their children about the app and hope that the fad dies down, but as long as high school students use it, they’ll be able to find ways around the stop-gaps and the fixes. Whether it’s posting only from off campus or disabling the parental blocks on their phone, Yik Yak is free to continue and schools can’t do anything except pick up the pieces of their students’ shattered psyches.