Yik Yak, other anonymous social media apps pose problems for schools

cwilliams@charlotteobserver.comJuly 5, 2014 

Cyberbullies across the country are using Yik Yak and other anonymous apps, which has triggered concerns for schools about how students use social media.

Yik Yak, an app which allows users to write 200-character posts that can be read by people within 1.5 miles, is part of the social media cyberbullying phenomena, which has changed how teenagers experience bullying.

A generation ago, most bullied students could escape at home or with peers.

However, unlike words scribbled on a bathroom stall or notes slipped in someone's locker, social media posts can go viral, follow students home and reach a larger audience. And as schools struggle to keep pace with teens who simply download the newest app, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is getting creative with how to curb cyberbullying.

Blitz at Myers Park

Yik Yak swept through Myers Park High School the Friday before Memorial Day. Recent graduate Evan Vlahos said students, staff and administrators at the school were immediately targeted.

"Everybody figured it out that day," he said. "By the afternoon, there was a new post every 15-30 seconds."

After Yik Yak hit Myers Park High School, principal Mark Bosco sent home an email to parents. The email urged parents to check their children's phones for the app and track content.

"Students who have the app are making anonymous posts about students, teachers, etc.," the email said. "Many of the posts are personal attacks, derogatory, hurtful, abusive and are examples of cyberbullying."

Myers Park asked Yik Yak to block the app on school grounds.

The app, launched seven months ago by Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll just after their graduation from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., was intended for college campuses, never for middle or high school students. Buffington and Doll said they have blocked the app at 85 percent of high schools in the country.

'People got bored'

But Yik Yak's time at Myers Park was short-lived.

"It was basically the same stuff over and over again, so people got bored," Vhlahos said.

Streetchat, an app similar to Yik Yak that allows users to post pictures, came next.

John Councelman, head of character development at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said anonymous social media poses new problems.

"It doesn't go away; it doesn't disappear," Councelman said.

He said the flurry of anonymous social media apps, including Yik Yak and Secret, allow students to post behind the safety of a screen without revealing their identities.

Justin Patchin, a director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said that anonymous social media is attractive to teenagers is not surprising.

"As much as adults continue to be concerned with their privacy and information out there for the world to see, kids are becoming concerned with that as well," Patchin said.

Councelman said digital citizenship will be the focus of CMS efforts to control cyberbullying and encouraging students to use technology in a positive way. The district will host boys and girls focus groups in October, he said.

According to statistics from the Cyberbullying Research Center, girls are more likely to be the targets and instigators of cyberbullying. About 16 percent of girls had been cyberbullied in the 30 days prior to an October study. Only about 6.8 percent of boys reported the same.

Councelman said administrators, teachers and PTA heads will discuss other measures, including a Be Kind Campaign, this summer.

"The biggest piece is that we can't do this alone," he said. "Parents need to have a seat at the table, the community needs to have a seat at the table."

Williams: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @byclairew

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