Do you know what apps your grandkids have on their smart phones? If not, ask to see what they have then see if they have a social media site called Yik Yak. This is a free app that was designed for college kids, but has been sweeping the nation of high school and middle school students.
On it you’ll find posts, most demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery. What makes this app so scary is that Yik Yak is anonymous. There was no way to know who is responsible for the posts.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, Eastern Michigan is one of a number of universities whose campuses have been roiled by offensive “yaks.” Since the app was introduced a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.
In much the same way that Facebook swept through the dorm rooms of America’s college students a decade ago, Yik Yak is now taking their smartphones by storm. Its enormous popularity on campuses has made it the most frequently downloaded anonymous social app in Apple’s App Store, easily surpassing competitors like Whisper and Secret. At times, it has been one of the store’s 10 most downloaded apps.
Like Facebook or Twitter, Yik Yak is a social media network, only without user profiles. It does not sort messages according to friends or followers but by geographic location or, in many cases, by university. Only posts within a 1.5-mile radius appear, making Yik Yak well suited to college campuses. Think of it as a virtual community bulletin board — or maybe a virtual bathroom wall at the student union. It has become the go-to social feed for college students across the country to commiserate about finals, to find a party or to crack a joke about a rival school.
Much of the chatter is harmless. Some of it is not.
“Yik Yak is the Wild West of anonymous social apps,” said Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at University of Maryland and the author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.” “It is being increasingly used by young people in a really intimidating and destructive way.”