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updated: 3/7/2014 8:21 AM

Schools raise concerns about social app Yik Yak

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  • The anonymous nature of the app Yik Yak has sparked fears it can become a vehicle for harmful comments or bullying.

      The anonymous nature of the app Yik Yak has sparked fears it can become a vehicle for harmful comments or bullying.

 
 

In the wake of concerns raised by city and suburban high schools, a new social-networking app that allows users to post comments anonymously has reportedly been shut down temporarily in the Chicago area.

The makers of the app, called Yik Yak, said that while the app is disabled they will look for ways to ensure it is not used in high schools or middle schools, ABC 7 reported Thursday.

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Yik Yak has been gaining popularity around the country in recent months. It connects people in a given geographic area, allowing them to exchange posts quickly and easily. No one from the app replied to the Daily Herald's request for an interview Thursday.

The anonymous nature of the app, though, has sparked fears it can become a vehicle for harmful comments or bullying. Lake Forest High School sent warning letters home to parents this week, suggesting that it be deleted from students' phones.

"Sadly, we have found that this app is allowing students to verbally abuse each other as well as faculty at LFHS," Lake Forest High School Principal Barry Rodgers wrote.

Other suburban schools contacted on Thursday reported no specific incidents related to Yik Yak but said they are monitoring its use.

Jim Conrey, public information coordinator for Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, said the school has blocked Yik Yak on its internal computer network.

"But it would be naive to think that our students don't know about it or don't use it," he said via email.

The terms of service listed on Yik Yak's website state that the app should be used only by those age 17 and up. (When downloading it, the user is asked to confirm that her or she is at least 17.)

The terms of service also say that users should not post offensive, threatening or obscene comments.

As for the anonymity, a blog post on the website dated March 2 says anonymity is key to what makes Yik Yak unique.

"It gives people a blank slate to work from, effectively removing all preconceptions about them," the post states.

Eric Slaughter, the Google and cloud apps administrator in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, said Thursday the anonymity offered by apps like Yik Yak can embolden teens to post offensive and even harmful comments.

"It can make them feel safe to post something offensive, either jokingly or not, because they figure no one will catch them," he said.

Slaughter said the potential for abuse of Yik Yak and other apps makes it important that schools and parents work together to teach students about proper behavior in the digital realm.

"We actually start it at the elementary level here," he said. "We try to teach or students about digital stewardship, that the students are responsible for themselves, and also the people around them."

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