Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The app is called Yik Yak, and though it was originally created by college students -for college students-, teens and pre-teens have taken to bullying via the Social chat app for the anonymity it provides.
Yik Yak was programmed to run on any device, and gives people the chance to express themselves in a totally anonymous fashion. The app actually uses mobile devices' GPS location to find locally active chat rooms for users to join, and through these local chats incidents of bullying have arisen.
The Yik Yak app was launched by two Furman University students intended to allow students to voice concerns or share news about on-campus issues and events. It was introduced first at colleges and universities, and has spread quickly throughout the country, but now many teens and pre-teens have begun using the app, and the anonymity it provides, for bullying.
High school and middle school students have taken to cyberbullying through the app, threatening to shoot someone, giving anonymous bomb threats, and even taking it as far as bullying one girl after she was raped. Law enforcement agencies in four instances worked directly with the app developers to investigate threats made through the app, resulting in a number of arrests.
Ultimately, regardless of any "anonymity" claim by an App, website, or other form of communication, law enforcement agencies do have the ability to trace messages back to the point of origin, either by an online digital identifier called an "Internet Protocol" address, or using GPS technology.
The Yik Yak app includes specific terms of service prohibiting the use of libelous statements against a named individual, or sharing personal information such as phone numbers or addresses. Students typically don't heed these terms of service.
A number of school departments around the country have banned the app, including blocking access to the app via their internal wi-fi networks used by students, but that doesn't prevent students from continuing to use the app on their own mobile devices with data plans.
So, the founders of the app have taken further steps to prevent younger users from installing the app, with age restrictions in the App Stores, and have created "Geo-Fences," a blockade based upon GPS locations that prevent the app from being used while on school grounds.
GPS coordinates of over 100,000 public schools across the country, and 28,000 private schools, have been utilized by the company to Geo-Fence the ban on the app nationwide.
This doesn't prevent the students from still using the app while at home or away from school grounds, so that's where parents need to actively be involved, and monitor all activity of teens and pre-teens on all of their devices.
Steps Parents Can Take:
Enable Parental Control on ALL Mobile Devices and Computers - Including iPhones, Android Phones, iPad or Android Tablets, and laptop or desktop computers.
Retain Log-In Information for ALL Your Child's Social Networks - Log onto Social apps on your children's devices regularly to check on activity. Predators and cyberbullies rely upon the lack of parental oversight especially in these areas.
Lock The GPS Location - Your child's device with GPS enabled acts as a beacon for potential stalkers or bullies, and when enabled, the current location of your child can be added to posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and enable location-based chats like the YikYak App.
By following the steps detailed above, you WILL incur the wrath of your child for invasion of privacy, but the long-term benefit in their safety will far outweigh the imposition. And they're a little more likely to refrain from behaving in a bullying - or more questionable - manner when they know their parents may read and see everything sent to -and from- their device or computer.
Follow Derry London on Twitter @Derry_London