The atmosphere at the University of Missouri was undoubtedly tense last week in the midst of student-led protests regarding race relations on campus. While the student protesters made headlines, anonymous posters on the Yik Yak app sent additional shockwaves through the university by making threats regarding students’ safety on campus. The fallout was immense; professors cancelled classes, and students stayed off campus out of fear for their safety. Thankfully, none of the threats made on the app were carried out.

Yik Yak, an app launched in 2013, is an anonymous location-based bulletin board concept. Users can anonymously post on the app, and that posting will transmit to users within a specified radius. It has become tremendously popular since its inception. The app has had more than a few controversies; users have taken advantage of the app and used it to cyberbully individuals as well as to make anonymous threats to college campuses. Sifting through these threats burdens both law enforcement and targets of harassers alike.

Notably, University of Missouri law enforcement arrested an individual in relation to the Yik Yak threats and charged the individual with making a terrorist threat. While this arrest is a definite victory for law enforcement and the University of Missouri community, it also serves as a clear-cut message to Internet trolls and cyberbullies: you are not anonymous or untraceable on purportedly “anonymous” apps such as Yik Yak. Yik Yak’s administrators have the ability to log users’ IP addresses, track GPS coordinates, and store phone numbers — all of which can be subpoenaed by law enforcement in a criminal investigation.

Even though law enforcement has a long way to go in catching up with crafty online harassers, hopefully the University of Missouri arrest will have a deterring effect on would-be cyberbullies and trolls. Another valuable takeaway from the arrest is an affirmation of a well-known principle: no one is truly anonymous when posting on the Internet.

Kristine Gallardo

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