Yik Yak, an app that sends posts, known as yaks, anonymously to all other users within a mile and a half of the poster’s location, just got a bunch of money from one of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capital firms, the New York Times reports.
A yak on the way to Jiuzhaigou in China (Kelsea Groves via Flickr)
The social networking app received $62 million from Sequoia Capital, a move that is likely to advance the cause of cyberbullying around the world, bullying that will now be enabled by the “Juicy Campus” spin-off. We warned users about Yik Yak a year ago, quoting Paul Waechtler, principal of the Northfield campus of New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Ill., just north of Chicago, as saying that some anonymous posts have included the names of students.
“The problem, as you might imagine,” we quoted another Chicago school principal as writing in an email to parents, “is that the anonymity is empowering certain individuals to post comments about others that are hurtful, harassing, and sometimes quite disturbing.”
The makers of Yik Yak have put in filters to disallow the use of names, according to the Times article, and to question users whose posts include certain words, such as “bomb” or “Jew,” which might be actionable threats. But the decision to post still belongs to the users themselves, provided they respond to the warning message.
“Pump the brakes,” the app warns if a potential post might be harassing. “This yak may contain threatening language. Now it’s probably nothing and you’re probably an awesome person but just know that Yik Yak and law enforcement take threats seriously. So you tell us, is this yak cool to post?”
Click “yes” and the post is on its way. Besides the anonymity, one of the most salable features of Yik Yak is that networks are tied to geography, not to lists of contacts or friends, as Facebook uses. All other Yik Yak users within a certain radius of the poster’s location get the post in their news feeds.
“Yik Yak is the Wild West of anonymous social apps,” the Times quoted Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, as saying. “It is being increasingly used by young people in a really intimidating and destructive way.”
Schools can block Yik Yak at the firewall, but as anyone knows, kids would still be able to access the content via their cell networks. And schools can’t prevent its use outside the school.
Venture capitalists have no interest in morality; that responsibility lies with parents and other community members. Just be careful what you post: Yik Yak staff members cooperate with law enforcement in response to perceived threats.
But tamer cyberbullying, offensive to some, is another matter entirely. In that case, users remain anonymous, as the app continues to empower their cowardice. If you find yourself cyberbullying other people, just remember: Casual hate directed at another person reflects back. It wears on the spirit.