Policy and law-makers need to revisit the assumption that it is an appropriate way of communicating on social media networking sites, due to the rise in Irish teenagers using the anonymous social media site Yik Yak.
James O’Higgins Norman, director of the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre, located at Dublin City University, called on parents and teachers to educate young people on how to appropriately use all social media, including how to respect others and how to protect themselves.
Yik Yak is a free social messaging app that allows its users to post anonymously and was created in 2013 by American Tyler Droll.
The app is based on the location of the user and any posts can be seen from other users within a 14km radius and is geared towards 17-year-olds upwards.
However, anecdotal evidence points towards a young age profile of users.
The site shows posts that relate specifically to the user’s given location so many of the posts, or Yaks as they are called, are about a user’s immediate surroundings, which means a person can get news and events that directly affect them.
The app provides users with a secure outlet to post ideas, feelings, or pose questions that they would otherwise be too shy to ask in person or for fear of being mocked.
Another similar site, Ask.fm, which has been in existence for several years, was widely criticised after several serious cyber-bullying cases were highlighted.
Dr O’Higgins Norman said: “There is a wider question about why there is this assumption that anonymity online is appropriate.
“I think policy and law-makers should revisit this and begin to move towards a situation where online anonymity is done away with.
“Yik Yak, like many other social media networks, can be used as a source of good or bad.
“However, the fact that people can participate anonymously means that those who wish to use it to harass and bully people are effectively given a free hand.
“This is not just a problem with Yik Yak but with all social media networks that allow users to be anonymous.”
Dr O’Higgins Norman’s calls were backed by Jim Harding, founder of the anti-bullying group Bully4U, which provides training to both primary and secondary school children and teachers on the dangers of cyber-bullying.
Mr Harding said: “What we are hearing on the ground from parents, teenage students, and teachers is all negative. It is heightening the anxiety of students and indeed their parents as it’s very targeted.
“It’s a more modern version of Ask.fm.
“Whereas before parents felt helpless but now we can see anecdotally, that yes the use of this app is increasing amongst Irish teenagers, but parents are talking to their children about the dangers and they are listening to this advice.
“The media is also playing an important role in educating parents and children about associated dangers.”
This app has been banned in some colleges in the US due to cyber-bullying complaints, with some high schools forcing to close for a period as a result of bomb threats on the app.
Carlow IT has banned its use, along with other social media sites such as Facebook, due to pressure on its operating systems.
Dr O’Higgins Norman added: “There have been several reports of extreme cyberbullying on Yik Yak in the USA at second level and also cases of racism, misogyny, and hate speech at university level. This has resulted in many high schools and universities banning use of Yik Yak on campus.
“What is particularly worrying about Yik Yak is that the app is location based which means users can anonymously create posts with very specific negative content about other users in their locality. This intensifies the effect on those who are targeted.
“There is evidence that use of Yik Yak is increasing among young people in Ireland which is a concern for parents and teachers alike.”
There was no comment available from Yik Yak despite several efforts.