Bullying in the 21st Century: YikYak

Josiah Scarano and Nate Pillis, Author

If you take a moment to look around, you will see a rapidly changing world. New technology and apps are being developed every single day. One factor connects all of these apps: Whether it is Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, or YouTube, all require accounts. These accounts can be tracked and tie your identity to your presence on the app. However, this is now changing.

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app on which you can post Yaks – messages of up to 200 characters of text – which are then upvoted or downvoted by others. You can see any Yaks posted within 5 miles of your location, which allows people to communicate about local events. However, these Yaks are deleted if they get 5 more downvotes than upvotes, or if they violate Yik Yak’s “Community Guardrails”. These rules protect YikYak’s users against misinformation, illegal or explicit activities, threats, bullying, and real names. However, Yaks that violate the Guardrails will stay up unless someone reports it. 

Yik Yak was released in 2013 on iOS and Android. As it gained popularity, the site saw an increase in racism, sexism, antisemitism, and general cyberbullying. This led to a decline in the number of users in 2015 and 2016, with the site eventually shutting down in 2017. In 2019, Yik Yak was purchased by a different company and re-released in 2021. Yik Yak made a multitude of tweaks that allowed the app to resurface, some of which included adding hotline numbers for suicide and bullying prevention. Additionally, now when a message is reported for using a real name, it is immediately deleted.

Despite this, in our experience, most Yaks tend to stay up for a while before getting removed. Recently, there have been some notable events related to the app. In May 2022, A student revealed that he was able to locate users with an accuracy of 10-15 feet with app data, and could potentially see their real identities with user IDs. There were at least five bomb threats on different college campuses, on September 3rd, 14th, 18th, and 24th, as well as October 21st. There were various levels of punishment for this misuse including thousands of dollars in fines and some charges of terroristic threatening, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. 

Instead of a threat to physical safety, Ipswich has seen threats to mental safety. When talking to our peers, they also expressed concerns regarding the app. To find out how Yik Yak has affected our high school, we looked for someone who had been Yakked about previously. When we opened the app, we saw posts about Gabby Hanson, a senior at Ipswich High School. When asked about Yik Yak, she said that the app made her anxious and contributed to her feeling overwhelmed. She added, “The idea that someone could be talking about me for everyone to see is terrible.” She believes that “Yik Yak has made the IHS more toxic”.

After this student interview, we wanted to get a teacher’s opinion on the matter. Who better to ask than our own Mrs. McShane? When we asked her what she thought about Yik Yak, she responded that she “couldn’t see one positive thing about the app”. She thinks that as a kid, she would’ve been interested in the app, but now that she’s an adult, she knows that “anonymity brings out the worst in people.” Her advice is to delete the app altogether. Similarly, IHS principal Mr. Mitchell, who experienced the app first hand, noted, “I saw how much garbage was in there and I deleted it afterward.” Seeing all the hate spread in the anonymous Yaks shocked him. Comparing his memories of high school to what he now sees around him, Mr. Mitchell stated that he “wouldn’t want to be a teenager today.”

From what we have seen, there are very few positives to Yik Yak. The app provides a platform for people to say whatever they want under the protection of anonymity. Students and teachers alike have both agreed that the app brings more toxicity to IHS and only divides us further. We know that there has always been a chance of someone talking behind your back, but at least then their face is shown. The danger of Yik Yak is that you are shielded by a screen, so your words are virtually untraceable. Although old ways of bullying have declined, new ways, enabled by technology, are surfacing. It is up to us to resist these apps no matter how easy or enticing they may seem.