Scary Yik Yak App Fuels Cyberbullying Mayhem
Yik Yak is an iPhone app that describes itself as: “anonymous, local, and social.” Others have described it as a mutation of Twitter and SnapChat. Its combination of geolocation data (GPS information), anonymous or alias posts, and supposed “no traces” make this app a cyberbully’s dream tool. It’s particularly risky in the hands of young, impulsive users.
The biggest issue is the app’s promise of anonymity. It allows people to express themselves without holding back and creates a space for hatred, taunting, and threats. Arrests following the abuse of the app prove that the promise of anonymity is questionable. Police tracked one person who threatened to “shoot up” a school in Alabama.
Not only has cyberbullying been associated with the app, so have man hunts and bomb threats. One school in the US had to be evacuated twice in one school day and other schools were locked down due to threats posted on the app. That’s mayhem delivered by a social media phone app.
Yik Yak specifies that users should be over the age of 17, but it offers no way to stop underage use. The Apple AppStore rating lists it at 17+ for a range of issues, including nudity, mature themes, drug references, profanity and more. The greatest uptake has been by US university students.
Add It to the No-No List:
Sad to say, but users who require anonymity are generally up to no good. Even if they are not, no good can come from interactions in such a space.
As a school counsellor, I can tell you interaction in anonymous forums has the following effects on vulnerable young people: undermined self-esteem, insecurity, and fear. Or, if they are dishing out meanness, the effects include callousness towards the feelings of others, a damaged sense of personal responsiblity, and worse.
The best step is prevention, so do periodic checks of devices for unsavoury apps like Yik Yak. Utilise the device’s parental controls to restrict apps by age and content. Kids aged 13-15 should have to ask their parents before loading any app, a step which can be configured in the parental controls.
Friday, 14 March is the National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence. Show your support by talking about risky apps like Yik Yak, checking parental controls are fully used, and do that spot check!
More on SOPHOS’s Naked Security Blog
Update: (May 23, 2014) The company behind YikYak responds with positive action. Read more here.