Popular app perpetuates cyberbullying

Imagine a new version of Twitter with no profiles, no passwords and is completely anonymous. A new app called Yik Yak is just that and has been gaining popularity on the California Lutheran University campus.

The app’s description describes it as “a local bulletin board for your area” that shows “the most recent posts from other users around you. It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them.”

At a glance, the idea of this may come off as an amusing concept since a user would be able to throw out thoughts and make discussion with a group of people that he or she may or may not actually know. However, there is no way the concept of cyberbullying could be overlooked with this app.

“It gives people an opportunity to call other people out anonymously. This causes unnecessary cyberbullying and problems for the community, students, faculty and anybody else in the area,” freshman Yik Yak user Andrew McFarland said.

Yik Yak is unlike Twitter in a few important ways, especially concerning the GPS feature which is the basis of this app. The only posts that appear on a user’s phone span one and a half miles from where the phone is located at a given time.

Users are able to read the 200 character posts, called “yaks” and up-vote or down-vote them, as well as make comments. If a post receives five down votes, it is removed.

After lurking on the app for a few weeks, I have seen posts about students that were personally addressed, some positive and others extremely negative and embarrassing. Athletic teams on campus have also been a popular topic of discussion.

“I’ve seen people single out teams, which I don’t particularly care for,” senior water polo player Mike Potter said. “They judge those teams based on one person’s actions, not the team in general, and it just gives a reason for people to be jerks because they won’t have any repercussions.”

Many schools across the country have already banned the app, and rightly so. Described by the Huffington Post as “bathroom stalls without toilets,” many posts on Yik Yak serve only to be harmful and unhelpful comments that benefit no one. Without any consequences to their posts, people have the freedom to post virtually anything that comes to mind.

Although posts are deleted once they reach a certain number of down votes, the yaks obviously have to be seen first to be down voted, so negative and unpopular posts have potential to be seen by those targeted.

One of the rules given by the makers of the app is that “you do not bully or specifically target other yakkers.” Obviously, this rule will not always be followed.

“When I first heard of the app I got all my friends to download it because it was so funny,” sophomore Yik Yak user Fabio Hediger said. “But then overnight hundreds of people on campus started downloading it and using it as a way to cyberbully other students, which wasn’t what the app is intended for but that’s the way it played out.”

One way the makers of Yik Yak have been trying to combat the cyberbullying of the app is by a technique called “geofencing.” According to a Huffington Post article, a “geo-fence” is a “virtual boundary around a real-world location on a map.” This technology allows or disables the sending of notifications when certain boundaries are crossed.

With their target audience being college students, the goal of geofencing is to not allow high school students to interact in the app. While the idea of making boundaries can act as a type of prevention, it is not a solution to the problem that will always be prevalent in this app.


Diana Rorher

Published October 15, 2014