By Stacy Leicht
Yik Yak is a social media messaging app that launched back in 2013. It’s free, anonymous, hyper-local, and popular in high schools and college campuses. Anonymous users (“yakkers”) post messages (“yaks”) and everyone within a 5-mile radius (a “herd”) can see posted content and respond.
Why is Yik Yak controversial?
In 2017, Yik Yak was removed from app stores because people were using it for anonymous cyberbullying and hate speech. Is Yik Yak back? As of 2021, Yik Yak is back, and parents should know that not much has changed.
The new owners relaunched Yik Yak, stating, “We’re committed to making Yik Yak a fun place free of bullying, threats, and all sorts of negativity.” They created “Community Guardrails,” meant to deter the user behavior that caused them to shut down the app before. Users enforce those guardrails by downvoting content until it’s removed, which means your mileage may vary depending on the locality being served.
The app is rated 17+, but there’s no age verification on the app itself. So, parents should know that while yaks run the gamut from harmless, funny, and relatable posts, some also include explicit content definitely not suitable for younger teens.
My experience with Yik Yak was … not great.
I downloaded the app and used it on a college campus to see what the hype was all about. The setup is straightforward. There is only one question: “What is your phone number?”
Then you must agree to the terms, which include the Community Guidelines.
At the top of the screen, there are three tabs to click on: New, Hot, and Video.
I clicked on the “New” tab first and right away discovered that most yaks contain cursing.
Most yaks in the “Hot” tab contained sexually explicit content. Yakkers requested sex or described a sexual encounter. A few yakkers expressed relief over a recent negative pregnancy test.
The “Video” tab contained random videos of everyday items like shoes, textbooks, areas around campus, and even a cockroach in a dorm room. Here, too, I found sexual content. One video showed the purchase of condoms; another showed bondage tape.
How is Yik Yak affecting high school students?
I contacted area high school principals and guidance counselors to find out whether Yik Yak bullying is affecting students and the learning environment at schools. Here’s what they told me.
Question: Has Yik Yak impacted the students at your school? If so, can you tell me a little about what you’ve noticed?
Principal 1: “The Yik Yak app has been a source of bullying in my high school. Parents have alerted me to cruel messages their children have received. Some of the messages included making fun of someone for their appearance or social standing, and we’ve had students receive messages about their race. Because the app is anonymous, I am unable to determine who is sending the messages. The school has asked law enforcement to partner with us, but they can only do so much. It is very discouraging because we are trying to teach students to treat one another with respect.”
Principal 2: “My middle school students have been exposed to very adult conversations at an early age. As the principal of the school, it is hard for me to handle things that happen outside of school or on an anonymous app. We do our best to educate our students about cyberbullying on social media and encourage using these apps in a positive manner.”
School Counselor: “Yik Yak has made my job harder. Many students already have difficult home lives or peer relationships, so this adds another layer of stress. I have had to add more groups so we can discuss how to handle things that are said on social media platforms. The anonymity piece of Yik Yak has caused a great deal of grief because people can post hateful things behind the comfort of their screens at home.”
Is Yik Yak safe for teens?
My short and very emphatic answer? No. Whether on a college campus or in high school, Yik Yak is an app that creates an environment for anonymous cyberbullying, meanness, hurtful comments, aggression, and negativity. Sure, some people use the app to post innocent questions and relay information. For instance, one person asked whom to contact when they lose their keys on campus, another person mentioned a pizza sale at a local restaurant, and someone else mentioned a gas leak that shut down part of the campus for some time. But from my research and personal experience, yaks are mostly negative or sexually explicit. Finally, while I didn’t see Yik Yak being used to cyberbully or threaten people, I saw plenty of messages that concerned me, and their recent addition of direct messaging might make targeting worse.
If your teen wants to download and use the Yik Yak app, try it out yourself and then determine whether, in your community, using it is safe and suitable for your teen. As always, talk to your teen about the technology they’re using and how to stay safe online.