By Lisa Barr
This is one of those “I’m Mad As Hell” blogs. One of my daughters had an appointment during school hours. As we were driving, I noticed her mouth kept dropping open as she eyed her phone. It was more serious than an OMG; it was a definite WTF look. Finally, she told me that there was a new app that “everyone” had downloaded that day, and it was beyond mean. Of course, I did a hand-it-over, and was astounded by what I saw: slander, threats, inappropriate comments, abusive quickies. This new popular app called Yik Yak interacts with others around you by posting “Yaks” — free-for-all snippets — and anyone nearby, say within your high school, can read these ANONYMOUS comments. It connects up to 500 people who are physically close to each other. It is a “Burn Book” in drag.
Mean Girls, Mean Guys, and Everyone in Between With A Bone To Pick can write whatever they want on this app — and no one can stop them. It’s an anonymous ‘screw you’. And no one will get into trouble for a single word.
But boy, is it painful.
Here’s just a sampling of what I saw in a one hour time frame — kids want to hook up with certain girls/guys, others discussed who they masturbate over, who is a bitch, who is a slut, who is ugly, who has big boobs, who is fat, who thinks he/she is all that, who’s blowing who, who is totally fuckable, and of course there were the requisite anti-semitic yaks, and perverse comments about teachers — Names were named, and EVERYONE in school saw these Unplugged, Uncensored comments.
And guess what, there is no profile, no password — Yik Yak prides itself on being anonymous. Visually, the feed resembles Twitter without any identification details — literally, no paper trail, no consequences.
And get this — according to the site, you HAVE to be 17 or older to download Yik Yak – YEAH, RIGHT. Before you download the app, a “press this” notification appears asking you to confirm you’re older than 17 — press confirm, and you are IN.
Find me one high schooler who is not IN. As if.
On the positive front, local high school administrators are on top of this problem big-time, clearly understanding the short-term dangers and long-term ramifications of this poisonous app. I’ve heard that several deans in our town and in other states have sent out notices to parents and have had the app blocked within the Wifi walls of their high schools. But kids being kids, and much more tech-savvy than our generation, have easily figured out, or will figure out ways to circumvent this, simply using other plans. Last month, a teen in Alabama was discovered to be Yaking throughout his high school halls about shooting other kids. Talk about fear factor. After an investigation, he was, thankfully, outed and arrested.
Yes, this is a majorly vicious cyber-bullying tool in high school. But here’s my further concern, the younger brothers and sisters of these high schoolers are always watching and listening. Parents, keep an eye out for the Trickle-Down Effect — once junior high kids get hold of this app (Are you 17? — Oh, I am today ...) — look out — it’s going to go from bad to brutal.
Sometimes I feel as parents, these things are coming at us like a firing squad, and we have no experience on how to deflect this. We have no case history to look to for answers; this unchartered territory is as new to us as it is to our kids. Truthfully, the most frightening part is that we simply cannot protect our child — no kid is exempt — anyone moving through a high school hallway can send out a Yak — and there is a built-in audience called the Entire School. And one yak about someone giving blowjobs (and believe me from what I saw it appears to be epidemic), leads to counter-Yaks.
There is no accountability, no buck stops here. Digital footprints on this one are practically invisible. So check to see if your kid has the app, and then sit them down for a serious all-out Yak chat.
Your only ammunition here is strong, clearcut parenting. Stay aware, give them boundaries, find out if they downloaded the app, and then let them know the real dangers of uncensored comments in which anything goes … and keeps on going.
Most of all, let your teen know that he or she may laugh over someone’s Yak — but the very next time, they could be the victim of a Yak Attack.
Yik Yak can certainly brag that it is an equal opportunity app — no one gets off scot-free. In my opinion, this app needs to be shut down permanently across the board. It is yet one more parental barrier to pummel through in this scary, serpentine world of Growing Up in Cybersphere.