(by Naheed Rajwani and Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune) – Yik Yak, a Twitter-like app that lets kids post anonymous comments to users in a 5- or 10-mile radius was introduced only a few months ago but has quickly stirred controversy in the Chicago area, where educators say some students use the service to threaten and malign others.
Like Snapchat and Ask .fm, which have posed similar problems in the past year, Yik Yak’s instant popularity stems from a teenage desire to communicate online and away from the eyes of parents and teachers who gravitate toward more mainstream social media sites such as Facebook.
At least four Chicago-area high schools issued warnings about Yik Yak in the past two weeks, with most principals asking parents to remove the app from their children’s phones and make sure the teens don’t reinstall it. Several districts also have banned the service from their networks, though administrators acknowledge such moves are largely symbolic because students still can access it easily through their phones.
“The problem, as you might imagine, is that the anonymity is empowering certain individuals to post comments about others that are hurtful, harassing and sometimes quite disturbing,” Joseph Ruggiero, head of the Upper School at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, wrote in an email to parents last week.
In light of the controversy, Yik Yak’s co-founder said the company was disabling the app in the Chicago area and will attempt to specifically prevent it from being used on high school or middle school grounds.
“The app was made for users college-age and above,” Brooks Buffington said in an email to the Tribune.
Buffington developed Yik Yak with Tyler Droll, a classmate at South Carolina’s Furman University. The app initially was marketed to students at Southern colleges as a way to connect with others on campus. The service, however, caught fire and spread to Midwest high schools such as New Trier, Lake Forest and Chicago’s Whitney Young.
It normally takes an app six months to gain such popularity, social media experts said. Yik Yak, however, established a near-overnight following because it tapped into the adolescent hunger for privacy and community. …
Lake Forest High School Principal Barry Rodgers learned about the app late last week after a few students expressed concerns about cruel posts. School officials immediately installed Yik Yak on their phones and began monitoring the comments, many of which he described as “negative” and “mean-spirited.”
When he saw the number of users within the school’s 5-mile radius increase at a steady clip, Rodgers had seen enough. In a letter sent Wednesday, he asked parents to delete Yik Yak from their children’s phones and review all apps installed there.
He also vowed to work with district attorneys and local law enforcement to see what recourse, if any, the school had against users who post harmful comments and disrupt the educational setting.
“This is one of those brave new world kind of issues that we now have to deal with,” Rodgers said. “One of our strategies is to have our parents talk to their kids about their behavior and how the choices they make can impact others.”
Rodgers met Thursday with the school’s student council, which agreed to launch a campaign against using the app, he said. Several students posted messages on Facebook announcing they had deleted Yik Yak from their phones and encouraging others to do the same.
“We’re trying to teach them that even if they’re not doing anything wrong, if they’re on Yik Yak they’re part of the problem because they are giving an audience to those mean-spirited comments,” Rodgers said. …
Yik Yak has received a chilly reception from educators across the country because it allows students to make potentially harmful comments while cloaking their identities.
Adapted from Chicago Tribune. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from chicagotribune.com.
1. a) What is Yik Yak?
b) What was the original purpose of the app, according to its developers?
2. How do Chicago-area high school officials explain their concern with students’ use of the app?
3. List the actions principals/districts are taking to address their concerns. Be specific.
4. a) How are Yik Yak’s developers responding to the controversy over their app?
b) What do you think about their response?
5. The Chicago Tribune report also quoted Delaney Tobin, a senior at Deerfield High School near Chicago, who said she downloaded Yik Yak after hearing that a post there mentioned her friend’s sister. Once signed on, she found most comments contained “stupid stuff you’d expect teenagers to say” as well as more serious comments. She said she has seen mean-spirited comments on Ask.fm and Tumblr and isn’t sure cyberbullying is a problem parents or educators can solve. Students need to take responsibility for their own behavior, she said. “I don’t really think it’s up to parents and administrators, because it is high school. People just need to get it in their heads that it’s not OK to say these things. It’s a moral value that people need to keep in check.”
a) Do you agree with Delaney’s assertion? Explain your answer.
b) Do you think administrators are acting responsibly in trying to block use of the app? Does it make a difference that they are asking parents to take responsibility, as well as one principal’s meeting with the school’s student council to find ways to address the issue? Explain your answer.
Did you know that in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, many public schools in the United States customarily began the school day with an oral prayer or Bible reading?
In 1962, the Supreme Court removed prayer from school (ruling in Engel v. Vitale), ruling that prayer in schools was unconstitutional. In 1963 the Court removed the Bible, and in 1980 it removed the Ten Commandments from schools.
(Many people today know that Jesus is the Son of God. Others think he was just a great moral teacher or a prophet.) When asked by a lawyer “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus [said] “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
How might students apply Jesus’ teaching in the passage above in their use of the Yik Yak app?
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