After spending the day on the newly reborn app Yik Yak, I felt sick and had a pit in my stomach, exactly like 37 years ago when I found the words “Vanessa loves Hitler” on the bathroom stall in 8th grade. The new girl in a small town, I had unknowingly slighted a popular girl. First, I got booted off the coveted lunch table, then the bullying continued from others I had only just met. It got so bad that I ate more than one lunch hiding out in the bathroom.
YikYak is today’s equivalent of that 1980s bathroom wall — multiplied by a million. The likely impact is exponential. And with our youths’ mental health in crisis, my concern for it to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back is well-founded.
Earlier this fall, I was surprised to hear that Yik Yak was back, but didn’t dive deep until last week when our school district’s lead mental health professional reached out to me. The high school was helping distraught students and they wanted to get the word out to parents. In order to really know what was going on, I immediately downloaded the app.
After being shut down due to bullying, threats and harassment four years ago, the Yik Yak app relaunched in August, under new ownership. YikYak is an anonymous messaging app that allows anyone with a phone to post and comment anonymously within a five-mile radius. Simply download the cute-looking app, enter your phone number, confirm the verification code and you are off. No need to register and no age questions at all.
Although posts or comments are anonymous, it seems anything but anonymous as almost every post I saw specifically mentioned a school staff member or student by name. Posts referenced their physical appearance including race, attractiveness, sexual preferences, sexual acts, alcohol and drug use, athletic competency, and promiscuity. Other “Yakers” can comment, upvote or downvote on the post. Yik Yak conveniently offers a drop-down menu to report a post or comment to indicate whether it was “Bullying, Threatening, Explicit Sexual Content, Hate Speech, or Using Real Names,” but kids don’t seem to use it. Of those kids mentioned, some laughed it off, some liked the attention and others got so upset they were not able to go to class or participate in sports. Nothing got reported until the school got involved, but the damage was already done.
What could be so bad? Try some of these examples taken directly from the app about Wilton students or other specific people, and remember — there are dozens and dozens more not fit to include here:
f—/marry/kill [student’s name] /[student’s name] /[student’s name]
[student’s name] likes to lock girls in bathrooms with him when they are drunk
I heard doctor [name] is offering free anal for anyone that wants
[student’s name] is pregnant
who else would f— [student’s name]
[student’s name] f—s [student’s name]
[male student’s name] and [male student’s name] are getting down in 69 position,
Word on the street is that [student’s name] was spotted on the 4th floor offering free oral
[teacher name] just spotted on 4th floor
[student’s name] is the hottest junior boy
[same student’s name] can have my babies
[female student’s name] likes girls
Just saw [male student’s name] and [male student’s name] aggressively make out in the Stop & Shop parking lot
[student’s name] ‘s mom is E for everyone
[student’s name] has been getting down and dirty with [teacher’s name]
[student’s name] has officially came out as gay! Wanted to spread the news!
[student’s name] has a 9 inch cock flacid
[student’s name] does pills
[student’s name] has a fatter ass than all the girls at whs
Yik Yak proclaims that it is committed to combating the problems that got the app banned before and has added Community Guardrails and Mental Health Resources. From what I’ve seen, it’s lip service at best and in reality worse than 2017. Wilton’s Superintendent Kevin Smith emailed parents on Monday explaining that this time around, “Yik Yak is not giving school districts the ability to geo-fence (a virtual network block…) their platform, which they were able to do in the past.” Not only is it unfair to rely solely on the schools for protection, but it’s also impossible.
Last week, the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a rare public health advisory, warning our nation of a youth mental health crisis. Those of us on the front lines and in the trenches (yes it is like we are fighting a war) know that we are already there. We know the depth and breadth of the crisis — from kids who can’t get out of bed in the morning, to increased behavior issues in school, daily self-medicating with substances to cope, being consumed by negative thoughts, starving themselves with food restriction, self-harming behaviors, hospitalizations and overdoses, it’s here, and at a historic high.
Murthy’s advisory is a wake-up call to both the general public and lawmakers. We cannot ignore the reality, compounded by tremendous loss and isolation over the last two years, and now increased pressure to make up for “lost learning.” We need immediate micro-actions in our homes and communities, and by our government on a national level.
Ironically, on the very same day as the Surgeon General’s advisory, YikYak announced that it had received a whopping $6.25 million in seed funding. Since relaunching, the app already claims to have millions of users, first starting with college students, trickling down to high school students and now middle schoolers too.
The website explains that the app’s new owners “brought Yik Yak back because we believe the global community deserves a place to be authentic, a place to be equal, and a place to connect with people nearby.” Their aspirations are to “be the world’s dominant mode of local communication.” They claim to offer a venue for “free and productive speech.” With that kind of money, they are just getting started.
We already know that social media can be a dark, toxic place. Success is all about user engagement, not the user’s health and well-being. Big Tech is facing much-needed increased scrutiny as our laws in the US aren’t doing enough to protect our kids. Yik Yak is trending big time, with the very real potential for disaster in every school district and campus. We, as parents, need to stand together and fight the biggest bully of them all.
Because of quick action in our town, Yakers are now frequently posting their frustration about posts being reported (for the record, it’s not me). I’ve seen a big decrease in activity, bullying and full name mentions since then. We adults can make a difference.
Every single one of us plays a role in protecting our youths’ mental health. We need to accept our responsibility — not just to our own children, but to the children and teens in our communities, and our nation at large. To prevent this toxic platform from growing, have your kids delete it or don’t allow it to be downloaded. Words — and actions, or lack thereof — matter. If allowed, we parents are guilty by association.
At some point the janitors painted over those words scrawled on the bathroom wall, and I have no memory of how I moved on. I do know that my 8th-grade yearbook is full of many classmates who wrote, “I’m so sorry,” along with their invites to get together over the summer.
If we, as parents, fail to see the urgency and don’t take action now, some kids will never get that chance to apologize.