Schools cracking down on use of anonymous apps

Related: Teens and technology: Protecting your kids online »

LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — Student gossip is nothing new, but the increasingly popular use of anonymous social media apps has local schools struggling to keep up.

The apps allow users to submit posts anonymously, and topics range from the scoop on underage drinking parties, to bullying, to even school threats. They’re typically geared towards college campuses, but school leaders tell Eyewitness News they’ve trickled down to the high school level as well.

There’s the good of social media, then there’s the bad – and students tell us what was happening in one local district was downright ugly.

“There was a lot of bad things that were said about people,” said Lincoln High School student Madeline Georgeu. “I know a lot of people got their feelings hurt, a lot of people cried about it, like it was just really awful.”

The social media app Yik Yak is one of many that act like a message board for users within a few miles of each other. Unlike Twitter or Facebook – users remain anonymous.

“Facebook you have a face, you have a profile, but on Yik Yak it’s like nobody will ever know who said that,” Georgeu added.

With bomb threats in Marblehead, Mass. and a school shooting threat in East Lyme, Conn. posted to Yik Yak, school leaders have been on high alert. Lincoln High School Principal Kevin McNamara said he quickly caught on to nasty posts at his school.

“I think what people need to understand is things that once were private or once were limited in scope, say writing something on a bathroom wall, when they post on Yik Yak it’s there for everyone to see,” he explained.

Parent Guide: Bullying Prevention >>
Parent Guide: Bullying Prevention »

Unable to track down who was posting what due to the anonymity, the Lincoln School District went to the only named source. The district worked with Yik Yak to create a geo-fence around all Lincoln school buildings – denying students of using the app while on school grounds. Principal McNamara said the plan proved successful.

“We’ve seen a big decrease in the issue. They can still use it outside of school, but cutting off the use during the day was really important to kind of calming things down.”

The district sent out emails to parents, advising them to watch out for use of the app outside the classroom.

“We have our responsibility to investigate once it comes into the school and once it becomes a school issue, but parents also have a responsibility to know what’s on their child’s phones and to know what these apps are,” McNamara said.

Eyewitness News has reached out to Yik Yak several times for comment, but they have yet to respond. On their website, they stress the anonymous app is meant for adults 18 years or older – meaning many high school students shouldn’t be using it in the first place.

Several other schools in Rhode Island are also now using geo-fences to block anonymous apps such as Yik Yak. Principal McNamara said other districts have contacted him for advice on setting them up around their schools.

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