Yik Yak, the Anonymous Messaging App Blamed for Cyberbullying, is Back

Here's What Parents Need to Know

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Yik Yak, the Anonymous Messaging App Blamed for Cyberbullying, is Back

Written by: Marybeth Bock

Yik Yak is back.

If you’ve never heard of Yik Yak, it’s likely because the once hugely popular app was pulled off the market four years ago after having been blamed for perpetuating cyberbullying and hate speech.

Only recently has it been redeveloped and relaunched with the hopes of creating a “place to be authentic, a place to be equal and a place to connect with people nearby,” according to a statement by the owners on the company’s website.

Founded by two college students at Furman University in South Carolina, Yik Yak originally debuted in late 2013 and was first made popular by college students around the country.

The app quickly swept the nation and surged in popularity with middle, high school and college students for two main reasons:

  • It allowed users to post anonymously.
  • It allowed other users within a 5-mile radius to view and comment anonymously as well. (Users could post something called “yaks,” which gave upvotes or downvotes to posts by others.)

With so much freedom for students to post what they wanted, when they wanted (with little restriction), it’s no wonder the app became so wildly popular on school grounds and college campuses.

But with any platform that allows users to post anonymously, Yik Yak soon became a virtual space where bullying, hate speech, and harassment ran unchecked.

Users with no fear of being held accountable for their brutal comments ran rampant, and the site quickly turned highly controversial for posts that were racist, sexist, and threatening. This led to public outcry, a 76 percent drop in user downloads, and the eventual downfall of the app in 2017.

This time around, the revamped app’s website has a very lengthy “Community Guardrails” section that reminds any user (who’s willing to read all their terms of service) that the following types of posts, among others, are expressly not allowed:

  • Anything that could be construed as bullying, abuse, defamation, harassment, stalking, or targeted hate or public humiliation toward other “yakkers” or people that are easily identified.
  • Gossip or harmful rumors that have no truth without referencing it as such.
  • Any type of body shaming or the use of hurtful and derogatory names.
  • Hate speech or discrimination based on race, age, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Malicious broad statements, unnecessary stereotypes, or insensitive jokes based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

The challenge remains, however, in how effectively the owners of the app will be able to enforce its guidelines and how quickly they will be able to remove content that is offensive and/or dangerous. 

The app’s owners encourage users who see anyone bullying another person or making a threat, to “please immediately downvote and report the yak message. Yaks that reach -5 downvote points are instantly removed from the feed.” And they add, “When a yak is reported, our team reviews it as soon as possible and takes action when necessary.”

What Role Can Parents Play with Teens Using Yik Yak?

Parents of teenagers, particularly ones with younger teens, walk a constant tightrope with how to best monitor their child’s smartphone use, and which apps to allow them to use. We all decide what’s best for our own kids, knowing their unique personalities, friend groups, self-awareness, and social-emotional strengths and challenges.

Many parents allow their teens to use social media platforms that they themselves are on so they can keep an eye on their kid’s activity, but we also know that teens are savvy enough to create multiple accounts while keeping some “non-parent-friendly” accounts just for their peers’ eyes.

Keeping communication open and honest is perhaps the best strategy when it comes to teens and apps. Rather than immediately forbidding an app like Yik Yak, sit down and discuss the ins and outs of the app as well as the potential risks that are inherent with anonymous posting.

Some questions you might want to ask your child include:

“How would you feel seeing a negative comment that you suspected was about you, or someone you are close to?”

“How would you react if you saw a post urging someone to harm themself?”

“Do you think you might become tempted to post hurtful comments about others, knowing you remain anonymous on this app?”

Social media apps all have policy information on their sites regarding sensitive content and how to report posts that violate their specific policies. However, with both adults and teens, it can sometimes be confusing as to what each individual user feels is personally inappropriate or upsetting, versus what actually violates a platform’s standards.

Reading through this information with your teenager can be beneficial as well, and it could help you both decide to try a probationary period of use, where your teen shows you what they are seeing and posting, before you decide if it’s a good idea for them to freely continue to use the app.

As a parent, I am impressed with Yik Yak’s Mental Health Resources page. They provide a great list of resources for anyone who uses social media apps and who may feel that what they are seeing online is upsetting, whether it’s behavior that constitutes bullying or comments that seem harmful in any way.

They even offer tips on how to stay mindful when using the app or any other social media apps. I especially appreciated reminders such as these:

Get off Yik Yak if it is not fun. Be intentional to enjoy your time on Yik Yak!

Don’t engage with haters or those that are clearly out for trouble.

Remember that Yik Yak is just an app. Don’t jump to conclusions about your life or others based on posts.

Take a break for 15 minutes, 2 days, or whatever is best for you. Stay present in your world. Don’t spend all your best time on social media.”

Whether your teen uses Yik Yak or not, these are excellent suggestions for all of us when it comes to how we spend our time online.

About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.



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