“Behind App’s Rise, Dark Side Looms” by Evelyn Rusli and Jeff Elder. The Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2014.
I have been having fun playing with the app “Yik Yak.” It is a digital bulletin board where anyone can anonymously post anything they want (uh-oh) and can view other postings within a 1.5 mile radius. The app can do this from the GPS data that is almost standard now on mobile phones and tablets. It is meant to connect the user with nearby people, but it is dominated by high school and college students where it has really caught on (more uh-oh).
Readers of the app can reply to any posting and rate it either up or down. Five down ratings will remove it. This is meant to self-police gross obscenities and cyber-bullying, with zero results that I can see. The dark side mentioned in the ominous title of the WSJ article refers to this sort of abuse that was apparently rampant a few months ago. One step the app’s owners took was to geo-fence off high school grounds, which means no one can use the site when at school inside the fence. Students, however, can easily wait until they get home outside the fence to libel, harass, and potty-talk as much as they want. And already there is another app that circumvents this limitation. Yik Yak’s Terms and Conditions warn that any user automatically confirms they are over 18 and is not posting anything naughty. Everyone knows this is a joke. The app only has about a dozen employees, and no way would they be able to enforce their rules nationwide. They are certainly not enforcing them in my neighborhood.
An important feature of Yik Yak is that you can “peek” into the postings in any other area of the country, but you will not be able to post to that area, or reply to, or rate any you read. That doesn’t matter to me. I am just an observer, not a user.
I live close enough to several high schools to see their postings, and I am happy to learn the topics have not changed over the past 60 years. High-schoolers are still obsessed with sex, drinking, alienation, parents, and homework. They just express it more profanely. Many of the recent posts were from freshmen college students home for the holidays, acting superior to their younger high-school friends still here. That, too, has not changed.
I peek into my teenaged granddaughter’s area of Pensacola just to see what’s concerning the students in their schools. I know they would die of embarrassment if they knew I was doing this, and that alone is half the fun. I can see a difference in the postings down there—more Bible-belt comments and legitimate complaints of boredom.
I don’t expect any of this to last. People today tend to abuse anything that can be abused, and one scandal will shut it all down. But more significantly, once the teenage users learn geezers like me are reading their postings, they will quickly abandon the whole process. At my age, I have the power to kill any teenage fad almost overnight by simply joining it. I’m thinking of posting, “I’m 78 years old, and many of you should be spanked!”