Yik Yak app disabled in Chicago school districts

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 11, 2014

(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.

image1344Like 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