After wreaking havoc at many schools across the country, the popular app Yik Yak recently made its way here. For those who have not scrolled through the app themselves, Yik Yak is an app that allows users to post anonymous messages that anyone within a 1.5-mile radius can view, making it the perfect medium for high school gossip. Not so surprisingly (but still disappointingly), the app quickly became a platform for posts that range from funny to outright cruel. After only a few days of Harvard-Westlake students using the app, it was almost impossible to get through a class period without hearing about a recent post or watching someone download the app from the app store.
The administration attempted to take care of the problem by contacting the owners of Yik Yak, which resulted in students not being able to use the app while on the school’s WiFi network. However, with a simple touch of a button disabling WiFi, students were able to continue using the app. The administration’s strategy to discourage use of the app, while an admirable effort, clearly did not have a lasting effect. Students simply disregarded this restriction and continued to post anonymous and hateful messages. This situation speaks to a problem that is much larger than Yik Yak and more complex than the banning of a single app can fix: bullying is present at our school, and Yik Yak is simply one outlet for this type of behavior.
The administration has also asked the developers of Yik Yak to create a “GeoFence,” which would make it impossible to access the app at school, even without being on the WiFi network. Again, this seems to be missing the point. Yik Yak is not the first social network of its kind; Bathroom Wall, Formspring and ask.fm are all incarnations of the same idea, and another will inevitably arise with the downfall of Yik Yak. The concept of anonymity has been around since the dawn of the internet, and it won’t disappear any time soon.
If the administration truly wants to crack down on Yik Yak, it needs to address the root of the problem rather than put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. I believe that the only way to make progress is to have students be open with each other. Most students who use Yik Yak see it as harmless fun, and many students who have been mocked in posts do not take them seriously. However, I have had friends tell me that they were personally hurt by especially harsh comments. If these opinions were discussed explicitly, the number of students who ignorantly post or laugh at malicious remarks would most likely decrease.
In the many discussions of Yik Yak that I have participated in over the last few weeks, I have often heard that people should not be so sensitive or that it is silly to be offended by posts that are clearly intended as jokes. This argument seems incredibly thoughtless to me. We are in high school, a time when emotions can be overwhelming and insecurity seems unavoidable. A fundamental issue in the mentality of those who post on Yik Yak is that they perceive people who are hurt by rude comments as weak, but they do not recognize their own weakness in hiding behind anonymity.
Although this problem is not an easy fix, a step in the right direction would be to discuss this topic in class meetings or Civitalks. Essentially, we need to have open and honest conversations that would force students to really consider the implications of their actions. As a generation that grew up immersed in technology, it is all too easy for us to click send without a second thought, but what we really need to focus on is what happens after.