A new social media app that works like a localized, anonymous version of Twitter is rapidly gaining popularity on college campuses nationwide, but some educators fear it's being used by high school students to issue threats and to bully classmates.
Yik Yak was launched in December by Atlanta-area entrepreneurs Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, two recent college graduates who designed the app using geo-fencing technology to create countless small communities. The app works like a “virtual bulletin board” for any 1.5-mile radius, Droll told FoxNews.com.
“With Yik Yak, we allow anyone to have that power, that audience, and you’re not limited by who’s following who,” he said. “And this app isn’t a one-to-one messenger. Anyone within 1.5 miles can see it. We equate it to a virtual bulletin board.”
Currently available for iOS and Android, Yik Yak allows users to vote on or reply to any so-called “Yak” posted anonymously using 200-character messages instead of Twitter’s 140-character limit. Although Yik Yak, which was designed with college campuses in my mind, restricts access on some 130,000 primary and secondary schools across the country, some parents and educators have raised concerns that younger kids are active on the service.
Most recently, in Connecticut, parents received a message from Fairfield Public Schools warning them that Yik Yak was “creating opportunities for mean-spirited, bullying behavior” at some of its schools.
"The issues range from bullying behavior, racial harassment, sexual harassment, to bomb threats and threats of physical violence."
- Fairfield Public Schools
“Upon researching this we have learned that Yik Yak has been causing many issues at middle schools, high schools, and colleges around the country,” the message read. “The issues range from bullying behavior, racial harassment, sexual harassment, to bomb threats and threats of physical violence.”
As a result, district officials asked Yik Yak to utilize its GPS technology to block access to the app within all of its campuses. A company spokeswoman confirmed to FoxNews.com that Yik Yak has been blocked to three middle schools and two high schools within the district.
“We’re proactively trying to keep high schoolers off the app,” Droll said. “It’s being used very well at colleges. We think psychologically high schoolers aren’t ready to use our app.”
In California, a 17-year-old high school student was charged with three felony counts of making a terrorist threat earlier this month after he allegedly posted on Yik Yak that a shooting would occur at two local high schools. The student thought the threat would be “funny” and untraceable, according to a news release from the Reedley Police Department.
Elsewhere, in Mobile, Ala., a 16-year-old and 14-year-old from the area were reportedly charged with making terroristic threats after allegedly using Yik Yak to announce forthcoming shootings at local high schools.
But Buffington said those “growing pains” are not unique to Yik Yak, and he recalled a story of the app being used by students at Vanderbilt University to raise money for a fellow classmate diagnosed with cancer. Other users might not have personally known the student, but the immediate forum and increased awareness created by the app worked wonders, he said.
“It allowed him to easily connect with his whole campus,” Buffington said. “Within one day, more than 1,100 people showed up to see if they were a blood match. Awesome things like that happen all the time with our app on college campuses.”
Company officials announced on Monday that it had secured $1.5 million in funding, aimed at enhancing current features and expanding its user base. Both Kroll and Buffington declined to indicate how many people are currently using Yik Yak, but some estimates are as high as 250,000. They did say, however, that it’s been used on more than 100 college campuses, primarily in the South.
Buffington said he expects the app, which was originally launched a meager side project, to eventually rival social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter because users are not anchored to any one particular profile, photo or circle of users.
“The trend we saw in all other forms of social media was, you have a profile, something that weighs you down,” he said. ‘You’re expected to act a certain way. Another big thing is they’re closed networks that lack diversity and differentiating content.”
Parry Aftab, an attorney specializing in Internet privacy and security law, told FoxNews.com that Yik Yak is quickly becoming “very popular” in places like Chicago, California and large swaths of the South. She said the anonymity apps like Yik Yak provides does indeed tend to make its users more daring.
“If people know what they’re doing is being monitored, they tend to think twice,” Aftab told FoxNews.com. “But I have no problem with schools blocking access to anything that isn’t related to education during school hours – period. Parents can deal with it when they get home.”