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Belmont students fight Yik Yak app with positivity

Last modified: 10/4/2014 1:04:03 AM
Hundreds of students at Belmont High School arrived to school yesterday morning to find an encouraging message neatly – and anonymously – taped on their lockers.

“You’re flawless; every part of you is unique and wonderful.”

“Your hard work is inspiring, keep at it! You’ve got this.”

These messages were “a thoughtful way to counteract much of the negative comments that have hurt ours and other communities through the application Yik Yak,” Associate Principal Rick Acquilano said.

Acquilano said the perpetrators of kindness were encouraged to come forward. They were a group of 11th-grade girls – Asia Merrill, Alise Shuten, Tayla Jacques, Carol Litshultz and Veronica Harris.

Acquilano said many kids were targeted as some students used the app to spread negativity earlier this week.

“In the wrong hands, we weren’t very proud of ourselves a couple days ago,” he said. “Today, it’s nice to know that young people kind of took a stand and made a statement about how to react to negativity.”

Yik Yak is a smart phone app that allows users to anonymously post whatever they want to say to other users within a defined radius around them.

According to its designers, it’s supposed to act “like a local bulletin board.” But in reality, it’s often filled with vulgar, hateful messages – sometimes directed at named individuals.

If you go searching through the menu for the rules, it states that “Yaks (users) should not join a herd until they are mature enough, so no one under college age should be on Yik Yak.”

The first two of six stated rules is “you do not bully or specifically target other yakkers.” But there’s no enforcement of those rules.

Ned Witham, a Canterbury parent of two students at Belmont High School, said he’d just learned about Yik Yak days ago and began to do some research.

“Kids all over the country have started using it for bullying,” he said. “There’s been some absolutely horrendous postings.”

So when he heard about the reaction by students at his children’s school, he was “overjoyed.”

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s just one of those things that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling when you see students who are thinking about their fellow students,” he said. “That’s quite an undertaking posting all these things.”

If users think the apparent anonymity of the app – you don’t even create a username – means they’ll never face repercussions for their posts, they may be wrong.

Sgt. Christopher Jacques said the Gilford Police Department has already made contact with Yik Yak’s legal counsel.

If the department gets involved in an investigation of an alleged criminal act involving Yik Yak, it will be able to trace the IP address and GPS coordinates of the poster, he wrote in a press release issued yesterday.

“While nothing is ever guaranteed, further investigation and legal process through other providers will often lead to the source of the post,” he wrote.

He said “the youth of our community need to understand the consequences of negative posts, regardless of whether they are determined to be criminal, or not.”

Acquilano said the information technology department at the school is working on banning use of the app for students connected to its Wi-Fi network. Teachers were also made aware of what the app looks like, so if they see a student using Yik Yak, they can take the phone and report it.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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