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I recently came across an article on CNN regarding a relatively new app call Yik Yak. It’s official purpose is to act as social chat room that allows users to post anonymously. The app developers site it as a great way to socialize and keep updated with your local community. The following description, is snippet from Yik Yak’s official app description:

“Yak your life away – on the anonymous local live feed: Yik Yak.
– The ultimate way to share your thoughts and recommendations, anonymously.
– Share your own Yaks and see what other people are saying.
– No login, no password, no traces; simply anonymous.
– Upvote and downvote Yaks, see what makes it to the ‘Hot’ page!
– Perfect for college/university students to stay social!”   (Yik Yak)

Sounds like a great method for facilitating social interactions within a community, but as we know anonymity has its pros and cons. Anonymity allows for people to hide behind a mask which empowers them to commit actions that they normally wouldn’t. In the case of Yik Yak, the mask allowed  middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to adopt it as a forum to engage in cyberbullying and other bad behaviors. The article on CNN “Yik Yak chat app stirring up trouble in high schools” provides two alarming examples. The first example is a student getting bullied for being a victim of rape.

“‘They ripped on someone for getting raped, and that’s just so wrong. They said a whole lot of bad things about this girl,’ Whitney Young student Rachel Brown told WLS.” (Valencia)

The second example is a school in southern california being locked down due to a bomb threat posted on the forum.

“The school was placed on lockdown, we conducted a sweep utilizing our bomb squad and bomb-sniffing dogs and nothing suspicious was located on or near the campus,’ Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Hallock told CNN.” (Valencia)

picture by londonista_londonist on Flickr

picture by londonista_londonist on Flickr

This seemingly brilliant idea has now been used in a form that its developers never intended it to. In defense of their technology one of the developers released the following statement:

“‘With anonymity comes a lot of responsibility, and college kids have the maturity that it takes to handle those responsibilities. One of my favorite use case stories is a freshman missed his flight for Christmas break, and he came back to campus and he posted on Yik Yak that the freshman dorms were closed, and so an upperclassman let him crash on his couch.'” (Valencia)

One word stuck out to me. Maturity. That word reminded me of the discussion in class regarding age limits for the early version of facebook, and how – initially – it was meant for a more mature group of individuals. Students in the class corroborated their stories of how even after they gamed the system to setup a profile their schools or older students made them get off the network. Of course as young kids we were jaded, and wanted what we couldn’t have. However, from my past experiences of witnessing kids using social networks in malicious ways and with the advent of this article, there can be a case made for maturity being a criteria for access. Why shouldn’t there be an enforceable age limit? Time and time again we see that younger kids are prone to inappropriate behavior online, especially when given the mask of anonymity. Formspring was a huge deal at my school, and the ability to remain anonymous led to a lot of cyberbullying. Finally, the school administration had to step in and ban the use of the platform at school.  I don’t see maturity level as a problem on social networks where people’s identities are highly visible, but I do see it as a problem for the ever growing number of services that promote anonymity.

Reflecting on all this, It’s interesting to see how my view on this issue has changed since first being introduced to social networks. The younger me would have vehemently opposed any notion of age limits, but age has given me perspective. It seems certain applications are geared for a more mature audience and should be age restricted. What do you think?

Sources:

Valencia, Nick, and Devon Sayers. “Yik Yak Chat App Stirring up Trouble in High Schools.” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

“Yik Yak.” App Store. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

Featured Image:

Anonymous contre Acta à Rouen

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