News flash: A new app that enables the posting of anonymous unfiltered thoughts can cause headaches for school administrators. Film at 11.
A recent bomb threat alerted many Memorial High School parents and administrators to something that many Houston-area students already knew about: Yik Yak, a smartphone app that functions as a kind of cyber-bathroom wall, allowing users to post anything at all anonymously.
The posts – “yaks” – are visible to other users within 1.5-mile radius. On Friday morning, a sampling of yaks from the Houston area included a parent-appalling mix of bullying, racism, sexism, profanity and drug references – not to mention blatant disregard for grammar and capitalization. Some were funny. Some were plain mean.
Late Wednesday night, a yakker threatened to bomb Memorial High School. A student reported the post to Memorial’s swim coach, who alerted the principal, who called in the Spring Branch ISD’s police department.
“We went straight into protocol,” said Jennifer Blaine, the district’s associate superintendent for administration and operations. The police department, including its drug and bomb dogs, swept the building twice, determining it to be safe at 4 a.m. School opened Thursday, with nothing unusual on the campus but a heavy presence of police and dogs.
Yik Yak threats of violence have spread as quickly as the app: High schools in Massachusetts and California have investigated threats, and just Tuesday morning, the University of Alabama investigated a yak that claimed someone was coming to “shoot up campus.”
Such threats appall the app’s creators, says Tyler Droll, one of the company’s young co-founders. He and Brooks Buffington, another 2013 graduate of Furman University in South Carolina, designed Yik Yak as a way for college students to reach each other in large numbers – “to say things like, ‘Free donuts at the library.’”
Yik Yak is also being blamed for the defeat of a ballot initiative at SMU to create an LGBT Senate seat. As someone who is old enough to have participated in Usenet discussion groups, color me unsurprised by any of this. Enabling people to say what’s on their mind has a lot of value, but it also means enabling those who don’t have anything worthwhile to say. The sooner you learn how to deal with it, the better. The HuffPo has more.