Yik Yak, the anonymous location-based social media app, has been under scrutiny since its inception. The start-up, which was launched in November 2013, allows users to make anonymous posts, or “yaks”, and permits others to comment upon those yaks. Yik Yak seeks to build communities by using GPS location-based technology, which shows users posts from others who are within a 10-mile radius. Creators, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, explain: “Yik Yak is the only way to create a localized social forum without prior relationships or friendships for the purpose of delivering relevant, timely content to hyper-local areas of people.”

The typical post is usually harmless. Sample yaks from the app’s website include: “Does Target sell boyfriends?” — University of Minnesota; “I almost just said ‘I have too many pillows.’ Then I realized there’s no such thing.” — West Virginia University.

Other yaks, however, have generated some serious criticism of the app as a whole. Many critics argue that the app facilitates, and even encourages, cyber-bullying, harassments, and threats of violence.

In April 2015, Ki Ung Moon posted a yak that read: “another 4.16 moment is going to happen tomorrow. Just a warning.” The former Virginia Tech student was referencing the Virginia Tech massacre, which occurred on April 16, 2007. After threatening a repeat attack, Moon turned himself into the police. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Moon was charged with disorderly conduct and sentenced to a year in jail, with eleven months suspended. Because he already served about a month in jail, it is anticipated that Moon will be released Thursday, October 8. Upon release, Moon will serve two years probation.

More recently, in September 2015, a freshman at Florida Atlantic University was kicked out of school and given a trespass warning in response to a yak that he posted the night before. 18-year old Emeil Stewart posted: “my friend just said he shooting up the breezeway and texted me a pic of a gun idk if he jokin.” Following the post, campus police received multiple reports from worried students. Stewart subsequently deleted the post and turned himself in. Although campus police found that it was not a serious threat, and Stewart was adamant that he never intended for the post to be construed as a threat, he was still kicked out.

In both of the aforementioned cases, the individuals turned themselves in and the police found that there were no real threats. What would happen, however, if a user posted a serious threat that he intended to carry out? Yik Yak has been careful to help mitigate such risks whenever possible.  There have been multiple instances where, in response to such posts, the company has complied with local police and provided user data, which includes GPS locations and IP addresses.

While it seems that the company does all it can to minimize the risks that the app will be misused, it is unlikely that it will escape critics who believe that it just opens the door for cyber-bullying and anonymous threats.

 

Sara Hunter

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