Here’s something important our society seems to be afraid to say out loud: Despite its name, “social media” is an inherently antisocial medium.
As a psychiatrist I can tell you that Facebook contributes to narcissism, depression and impaired interpersonal relationships. This likely happens because users craft appealing profiles of themselves, twisting their stories along the way, fooling themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends” and finally using a keystroke to block unwanted feedback.
Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.
But the new Yik Yak app, originally designed for college campuses, is the most dangerous form of social media I’ve ever seen.
According to ABC News: “Yik Yak works like an anonymous bulletin board, displaying messages from people in a user's area that can be voted ‘up’ or ‘down’ on the page. Tyler Droll, founder and CEO of Yik Yak, said the app was designed to be like ‘a city's central plaza or campus bulletin board.’”
“‘Yik Yak users interact with everyone around them,’ Droll said.
“'Yakking' is the welcoming, authentic and anonymous version of tweeting."
Translation: Anyone using Yik Yak can turn a school into a virtual chat room where everyone can post his or her comments, anonymously. Untruthful, mean, character-assassinating short messages are immediately seen by all users in a specific geographic area.
If a student writes, “Susie has an STD,” there’s no way to know if the “yak” is true. But hundreds of other students may see the electronic message, leaving it to the target to defend herself.
Psychologically, Yik Yak actually removes all pretense of being a person with empathy, genuinely connected to other human beings.
So it is no wonder that Yik Yak has become the ultimate tool for bullies, especially at the high school level, who want to target another student or a faculty member and — without any consequences, whatsoever — anonymously destroy that person’s reputation.
A week ago, a private high school in Massachusetts experienced a 24-hour onslaught of ugly rumors and comments about students and administrators. School officials had to plead with the students to stop using their smartphones to ravage the self-esteem of others.
The person or persons who were responsible for all the “yakking” were never discovered. No one could be punished.
All that was left to do, after the anonymous and vile comments were disseminated, was to try to heal up.
A public high school in Massachusetts was evacuated twice last week after anonymous threats were made via Yik Yak.
Schools in Chicago, Connecticut and California have reported serious disruptions, too, including shooting threats.
Yik Yak can also be used by anonymous “communities” in office buildings to savage individuals emotionally. Those using the app can silently spill their secrets, spread rumors about co-workers and urge dozens of people to simply stop speaking to someone — without the affected individuals even knowing why they’ve been targeted.
The founders of Yik Yak, in an attempt to control the scourge they have loosed on the world, are trying to come up with a way to restrict access to individuals who are identified, via GPS, to be located in high schools or middle schools. The app also has a feature that removes posts deemed offensive by two or more users.
Sorry, but that ain’t enough. The creators of Yik Yak decided to disseminate the technological equivalent of crack cocaine on America, and I hope these drug pushers, disguised as techie entrepreneurs, attract the attention of world-class, class-action attorneys like my friend Joe Siprut in Chicago
Joe, reads all my op eds, by the way, and could seek restitution for the thousands of people already harmed by Yik Yak.
I hope the app’s creators go bankrupt, too.
Notice this: I am willing to say all this about Yik Yak honestly and openly, without hiding behind an anonymous app created by antisocial developers who want to get rich and don’t care if that means ruining our kids on the way to the bank.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.