School bans Yik Yak due to bullying reports

Scott Nussbaum

In response to complaints of bullying, the administration placed a ban on the use of the social networking application Yik Yak by blocking the application when a phone connected to the school Wi-Fi attempts to open it. However, users have still been accessing the app and making comments on campus by turning off their Wi-Fi and using their cellular service instead.

An email was sent to all parents from Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts May 16 notifying them of the ban and asking them to discuss the application and its effect on the school community.

“[Banning Yik Yak] makes a statement, and it’s a little like graffiti on walls,” Huybrechts said. “Unless you clean it off right away, more grafitti follows. And so I think we need to clean up our messes as we make them, and set an example and a tone in that way.”

Yik Yak was created in October 2013 and allows users to post anonymous messages to a virtual bulletin board.

Any user who has downloaded the application can read comments that have been posted within a 1.5-mile radius of the user. The administration was notified of the application being used for bullying when students complained about it to their deans. The administration blocked Yik Yak from the Wi-Fi, which put a bubble around the school, “in the interest of civility,” Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas said.

Barzdukas has downloaded the application to view the comments posted around the school campus.

“It doesn’t seem like it has a place in the Harvard-Westlake community, where people are interested and engaged in real issues,” he said.

Because students can still access the application when they are not connected to the school’s Wi-Fi, the school has requested that the makers of Yik Yak place a “GeoFence” around the Middle and Upper School campuses in order to completely block the application, according to the email Huybrechts sent to parents.

The creators of the application are currently developing “GeoFences” for school campuses and other areas that wish to eliminate access to the application.

“It did not seem to be serving any good and it seemed to be a tool for doing harm,” Huybrechts said. “Because it was relatively easy for us to eliminate it, we decided to do so. When you are in a position to be able to put a stop to bad behavior, it is incumbent upon us to do so.”