WATCH ABOVE: The Ottawa District School Board has banned anonymous messaging app Yik Yak after a school was put in lockdown over a message posted to the app. Nicole Bogart reports.
TORONTO – Anonymous messaging apps have long been at the centre of controversy when it comes to cyberbullying. But a popular app called Yik Yak is now stirring up controversy within Canadian schools for other reasons.
Earlier this week, an Ottawa-area school was in lockdown after a threat was posted to the app. According to a spokesperson for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), a user within close proximity to Hillcrest High School claimed there was a gun in a science lab.
Because of the proximity to the school, administrators issued a lockdown while authorities investigated. The threat turned out to be a false alarm, but the incident prompted the school board to put a ban on the app at all Ottawa-Carleton schools.
“We’ve blocked the desktop app and we’ve blocked [the mobile app] using a geoblock,” Sharlene Hunter, communications officer with the OCDSB, told Global News Wednesday.
“We’re doing what a lot of other school boards are doing.”
Yik Yak offers anonymous messaging between users – however, unlike other popular anonymous apps like SnapChat or Ask.fm, the app is based on the user’s location. Those using the app are able to see messages from users within the same area.
Users are not required to set up an account to use Yik Yak and are able to post anonymously, or use an alias.
Similar to sites like Reddit, users are also able to “upvote” or “downvote” popular messages.
The app – which was released in early 2014 – was originally marketed towards college and university students as a hyper-local version of Twitter. Students were encouraged to share campus happenings, party information, voice complaints and even warn other students about cancelled classes.
But the app is now becoming increasingly popular with high school students.
At time of publishing, Yik Yak was one of the top trending searches in Apple’s App Store.
This isn’t the first time Yik Yak has been the subject of controversy at schools.
In March 2014, a Massachusetts-area high school was evacuated twice after bomb threats were posted to Yik Yak. Later that month, an Alabama teen was arrested after threatening to shoot someone on the app.
Last fall, charges were laid against 11 U.S. college students for threats posted to Yik Yak in relation to eight universities.
Reports of cyberbullying using the app became so rampant multiple Chicago-area schools issued warning to parents regarding the app and even prompted Yik Yak’s creators to attempt to prevent it from being used on high school or middle school grounds, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In an article discussing the bullying problem on Yik Yak, CNN described the app as “a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.”
Cyberbullying has become the main concern with almost all anonymous messaging apps.
The worry is that kids and teens take more risks because their names aren’t associated with the account.
Hunter is encouraging parents to discuss the dangers of issuing threats and bullying on anonymous apps, adding that kids need to keep in mind that fake threats could take emergency responders away from real life-threatening situations.
“We are having our teachers, principals and our school council chairs to talk to parents and say you need to know what is on your kid’s phone,” she said.
“We have to tell kids [they] need a clean digital footprint – you need this if you’re going to university, or going into the workplace.”
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