Beware of Yik Yak — anonymous social media

Schools in the Chicago area—and probably across the country—are asking students to uninstall an app known as Yik Yak and asking parents to make sure kids don’t re-install it, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Kids do stupid things (iStockPhoto)

Like, the app allows people who are supposed to be at least 17 years old to post comments without setting up a profile, without ever identifying themselves, and without any idea what consequences a permanent digital footprint might bring to their lives.

Other users of the app might not be aware of who posts anonymous comments, but big data knows who posted certain offensive comments and, probably, where they were standing when they posted them.

According to Paul Waechtler, principal of the Northfield campus of New Trier Township High School, some anonymous posts have included the names of students.

“The problem, as you might imagine, is that the anonymity is empowering certain individuals to post comments about others that are hurtful, harassing, and sometimes quite disturbing,” the Tribune quoted Joe Ruggiero, head of the Upper School at Francis W Parker School in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, as writing in an email to parents last week.

Digital footprints last forever, but tweens don’t get it

We have a responsibility to serve as a guide for kids on the Internet. Their brains don’t—and can’t—understand the concept of “forever” completely. KC Kids’ Doc writes on their blog:

It is physically impossible for a tween/teen to fully understand the permanence of their actions (on- and off-line) regardless of the best of intent. This is one of the fundamental frustrations of most parents of teens and pre-teens. These kids just don’t get the long-term consequences of their actions. That’s right — they don’t because they can’t! Their brains don’t work that way!

But because anonymity is empowering, as several Chicago-area principals noted, kids get caught up in the rush and tend to do dumb things that have permanent repercussions. Once something, such as a tweet or status update, hits the Internet, you just can’t get rid of it. People retweet it, sure, but it also lives in their memories and forever shapes what they may think.

Although it’s very difficult for tweens to project very far into their futures, this brings to mind that old-fashioned job interview question, Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Consider that, and realize that for a 12-year-old kid, 10 years from now could very easily find them looking for a job. Stuff I wrote on the Internet more than 10 years ago still pops up on the occasional Google search, and so it will for kids who post stuff.

If that stuff is mean or inappropriate in some way, it’s more likely to hurt their future employment prospects than help them. That’s where parents and school officials need to step in and protect kids from their own dumb mistakes.

School used to be a place where kids could make these dumb mistakes without there being a permanent record of every 140-character utterance they made in their pre-adolescent stupor. But that is not our world today. Somehow, we have to get that message across.

Parker is a private school, not a public school, and carries a tuition of more than $25,000 a year. New Trier, on the other hand, is a public high school serving kids in some of the North Shore’s most affluent neighborhoods.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.