Yakety Yak: What’s Up With Yik Yak?

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on December 19, 2014

yikyakI first wrote about Yik Yak back in March, when the app took several suburban schools by storm. High school administrators around Chicago were deluged with incidents stemming from inappropriate student use of this app, ranging from bullying to bomb threats. To their credit, the administrators of the app responded quickly and restricted its use in and around most middle and high schools. Of course this didn’t stop persistent and inquisitive teens from using the app in other spaces, but it was a start. Since then, the app has slowly made its way to other parts of the country, including mine.

What is Yik Yak?

For those of you who have yet to encounter Yik Yak, it works like an anonymous, location-based Twitter feed. Posts are called “yaks,” and like Twitter, users are limited in the number of characters that can be posted at any one time (200 for Yik Yak). Anyone can download the app (though users are supposed to be 17+), and, without setting up an account or entering any personal or identifying information whatsoever, can immediately post yaks, and see what others in their general geographic vicinity are “yakking” about. Currently, users can view posts by anyone within 10 miles of their present location, though this distance has changed a couple of times since the app’s launch about a year ago. You can also “peek” in on what is being yakked about in other areas. Viewers are able to rate each yak by “upvoting” or “downvoting” them. The most popular posts are highlighted in a special area of the app which designates them as “hot.”

It’s Taken a While to Catch On

When I downloaded the app back in March, no one within 10 miles of me was using it. I re-checked sporadically over the summer, but there was still no action. When I traveled to speak in different parts of the country, I would load the app to assess its popularity, but usually there weren’t any active posts. In the last couple of weeks, however, the app has really caught on at my University. The local NBC affiliate in town called me last week to ask if I had ever heard of it. I pulled up the app and saw that there was quite a bit of traffic. The topics were about what you would expect from a college-aged audience: alcohol, exams, and relationships.

yik-yak-2
Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively tame the posts were. There was nothing that you wouldn’t expect college students to be talking about while hanging out with their friends. There was no bullying or harassment or “Juicy Campus”-type disclosures about the sexual impropriety of certain students. Crass comments were generally downvoted – a clear statement by users that those kinds of posts are not welcome. I assume this varies by location, but the Yik Yak community in my area seem capable of self-regulation.

It’s Not for Everyone

To be clear, this isn’t an app that is appropriate for most adolescents. Keeping it out of their hands, however, may prove challenging. If college students are using it, high schoolers will want to as well. And if high schoolers like it, eventually middle schoolers will be drawn to it. Because of this, we need to educate youth about the reality of these kinds of “anonymous” apps. First and foremost is that their posts are not really anonymous. The app knows the device that the posts are coming from, and if necessary the police can track comments of a criminal nature back to the user. It is also important to recognize that users may be inclined to say things in these environments that they wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. Hurtful, demeaning, or generally inappropriate posts can have real-world consequences—whether the original poster sees them or not. Larry Magid and Anne Collier over at ConnectSafely just posted some tips for the safe use of apps like Yik Yak.

In addition, like many games and other social media spaces, this app can be addictive. When creative or humorous posts are upvoted by others, it increase ones “Yakarma.” Similar to likes, shares, and re-tweets, these upvotes are seductive and highly sought-after. When I posted something that I thought was kind of funny, I found myself refreshing the app every few minutes to see how the community would respond. I also wanted to see what funny comments my students were capable of. As it is final exam week on my campus, many posts played on the fact that students are struggling with the realities of college life during this stressful time: “Check out my new mixtape…it’s my GPA and it drops tonight.” Quite a few students actually lamented the fact that they stumbled upon Yik Yak during finals week.

Who’s Responsible for the Proliferation of These Apps?

Anonymous and ephemeral apps (those where the content of posts seemingly disappears after a period of time) are all the rage these days. They are cropping up like Whack-A-Mole as parents and educators desperately try to keep up. People regularly ask me what legitimate purpose these apps serve. I just remind them that they wouldn’t be developed if there wasn’t a market for them. For one, teens have been listening to adults who have warned them for years about the potential permanence of their digital footprint (digital tattoo, really), and they are looking for ways to interact with others without the stress of having to worry about how a future employer or mother-in-law might judge them based on previous online indiscretions. Apps like Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Snapchat, and numerous others, can fill this role.

Plus, I don’t think it is necessarily fair to put the blame exclusively on the app (or the company that created the app). For example, should we blame Daniel Tosh for telling a crude joke on TV, or Comedy Central for broadcasting his show, or me for watching it? When it comes to Yik Yak and others like it, should we blame the app, the poster, or the consumer of the content? If nobody watched Tosh.0, Comedy Central would cease to air the show. If nobody downloaded or posted to Yik Yak, it would disappear very quickly.

Whether we like it or not, apps like these are here to stay. And we all have an obligation when it comes to policing them. Parents need to ensure that their kids are only interacting in age-appropriate environments. They should also take the time to explain the concerns that they have about particular social media spaces, and equip their kids with information that they can use to understand the potential consequences of misbehavior (even in places that are promoted as private or anonymous). It is best if parents focus more on the behaviors they are attempting to prevent rather than the online environments in which they could take place. The environments will change, but the behaviors generally don’t.

Social media administrators need to work to cultivate a community where members look after one another and not target each other with hate or humiliation. Posts that violate commonly-accepted norms or site-specific terms of service—including bullying—need to be removed immediately, and repeat violators need to have their accounts suspended. Yik Yak is clear in its rules that it will not tolerate bullying. And it appears as though they are doing their best to maintain this standard. We’ll see if they can keep up as the yakking increases.

Cyberbullying Activity: Laws

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on December 1, 2014

By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Use this activity to help your students learn about laws related to bullying and cyberbullying.

Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2014). A Leader’s Guide to Words Wound. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

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You can also download the complete (and free!) Leader’s Guide to Words Wound by clicking here.

Cyberbullying Activity: Crossword Puzzle

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Use this Crossword Puzzle activity to introduce students to important concepts related to cyberbullying and Internet safety.

Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2014). A Leader’s Guide to Words Wound. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Download PDF

You can also download the complete (and free!) Leader’s Guide to Words Wound by clicking here.

The Case for Including Intent in a Definition of Bullying

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on November 26, 2014

36725556Last week I presented at the International Bullying Prevention Association’s annual conference in San Diego, CA. This was the second time that I have participated in this event, and both experiences were enjoyable and educational. The attendees (over 700 strong this year) are generally very interested in the work that we are doing at the Cyberbullying Research Center, and the other presenters are uniformly among the best in the business.

The conversations that occur between the formal presentations are just as enlightening and thought-provoking as anything within the scheduled sessions. Talking with attendees and other speakers sparks insights about issues we are working on and allows us to view our research and writings from the perspective of informed others. It was a couple of these conversations that sparked my interest in writing this post.

Right before my first presentation, I got to talking with Stan Davis about how bullying is defined and specifically whether intent was a necessary component. Most definitions include this element, and ours is no different. Specifically, we define cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices.” Like most others, we argue that to be considered bullying, the behavior in question needs to be intentional.

Stan suggested that whether a behavior was deliberate or not was beside the point. If it was hurtful, or if the person doing it should have known that it could have resulted in harm to another, then it is bullying. His position was supported by Elizabeth Englander, another researcher at the conference whose work I very much respect. She added that the problem with including intent as a defining criteria is that it requires teachers in the classroom to get into the heads of students to try to figure out what they were thinking when they did what they did. This is a fair point, though one easy way to determine intent is to see if the behavior was repeated after some initial intervention. If the student is made aware that their behavior is causing harm to another (either by the target, a bystander, or other third party), and yet they continue to behave in the same way, then it’s clearly intentional.

After my presentation, Lori Ernsperger, another speaker who attended my session, came up to me to also discuss whether intent was really a necessary component of bullying. Lori and I chatted briefly about our respective positions on this issue, but because others were waiting to speak with me, we weren’t able to dig into the details enough to clearly explain where each other was coming from. I don’t think that Stan, Elizabeth, and Lori collectively conspired to critique this component of my presentation, so I did feel the need to consider this question further.

That’s why I was happy to receive an email from Lori shortly after the conference with additional information about why she felt it was imperative that we adjust our definition by removing the element of intent. She was particularly concerned with the implications of requiring intent to define something as bullying when it came to behaviors targeting students with disabilities. “Disability harassment,” she argued, “does not consider the intentionality of the bully, only if it is ‘unwelcome conduct.’ When the term ‘willful’ is used for defining bullying it requires schools to have separate policies and definitions for students within protected classes.”

She presented me with a hypothetical incident to consider:

A 16-year-old high school tennis player has a genetic disorder and diabetes. His teammates have been harassing him about going to the nurse’s office and requiring more snack breaks during practice. This goes on for a year. Coaching staff have observed this, but as required by law (FERPA), most school personnel do not know he is a child with a disability. After repeated teasing, he stops going to the nurse and eventually drops out of tennis. This is a clear violation of his civil rights, but the school said it was not “intentional” on the part of the other students (“they were good kids from good homes and did not mean it”) and they did not see this as willful behavior. But is does not matter, it was unwelcome conduct that changed this student’s educational experience. All school personnel should observe and intervene regardless of the intentionality.

First of all, regardless of intent, I agree wholeheartedly with the final sentence in her vignette. School personnel should intervene whether the behavior is defined as bullying or not. One thing is clear, the tennis players were being mean toward their teammate and that should be addressed. But was it bullying? If the students involved in harassing the tennis player for a whole year genuinely didn’t realize that what they were doing was harming the target, then it isn’t bullying. Or, if a reasonable person would have known that the behaviors were causing harm, then it would be intentional and be accurately categorized as bullying. As I have previously written, best friends can say things to each other that appear to be mean or that could unintentionally make someone upset. But are these things really bullying?

As a comparable example, maybe I say something to someone on a repeated basis, just thinking I am being funny, and that person completely ignores or even laughs along with what I am saying. But it turns out that the person is actually very hurt by my comments, yet he never expresses that to me (nor does anyone else). What I am saying may be mean or rude, but it isn’t bullying. Should it be addressed? Of course. Should it stop? Absolutely. If we were students at the same school it would be completely appropriate for a teacher or counselor or whomever to make me aware of the harm that I am causing. At that point, I should definitely apologize and not do it again. If I do repeat it, then that clearly demonstrates willfulness because I was informed of the hurtful nature of what I was saying, but still continued. And that would be bullying.

Lori insisted that the “unwelcome conduct” standard is really what matters. If something is unwelcome, then it is bullying. I don’t think it is that simple. What if I bump into someone in the hallway? Or spill my hot tea on someone’s lap? What if I crash into another vehicle when that person is stopped at a stoplight? These are all clear examples of unwelcome conduct, are they not? Would it be accurate to classify these as bullying—even if they were isolated events and completely accidental? Plus, in order for any of these behaviors to be considered “harassment” in a technical/legal sense, one would have to prove that they were done because of a person’s status (based on race, class, gender, disability, etc.). Harassment is different from bullying. Some bullying behaviors could accurately be classified as harassment, and some harassment could be bullying. But the overlap is not 100%. For example, harassment (again, as formally defined) is always based on a protected status, whereas bullying is not. Harassment could be a singular incident (though often not), whereas bullying is always repetitive (or at least presents an imminent expectation of repetition). I still can’t think of an example of a behavior that should be accurately defined as bullying where intent to cause harm is not present.

The bottom line is that we simply cannot call every harmful or hurtful or mean behavior between teens “bullying.” That dilutes the problem and is confusing to everyone involved. Bullying is a specific and more serious form of interpersonal harm and the term needs to be reserved for behaviors which are repeated and intentional.

That’s what I think. What about you?

Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd edition)

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on October 31, 2014

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

The #1 cyberbullying prevention book just got better!

Cyberbullying occurs when three components intersect: teens, technology, and trouble. This perfect storm of elements manifests as harassment, humiliation, and hate that can follow a child everywhere. Drawing on the authors’ own extensive research, this groundbreaking eye-opening resource incorporates the personal voices of youth affected by or involved in cyberbullying, while helping readers understand the causes and consequences of online aggression.

Since 2007, school leaders, teachers, and parents have relied on the bestselling and award-winning first edition of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard for practical strategies to address cyberbullying. Now in its second edition, this essential guide is completely updated with new research and evolving best practices for prevention and response, including:

– Summaries of recent legal rulings related to teens and technology, and their implications
– Discussion of the responsibilities of school personnel, and how that translates to policy and programming
– Guidance on how educators, parents, students, and law enforcement can work individually and collectively to prevent and respond to cyberbullying
– Useful “breakout boxes” highlighting strategies you can implement
– Practical resources, including an assessment instrument, scenarios, and staff development questions

Written in an accessible and informal tone by leading experts in the field, this must-have book provides the tools to prevent and respond to cyberbullying in your school community.

“This is an excellent resource that clears up much of the confusion and sometimes hysteria generated in the media on cyberbullying.  It provides prudent and do-able strategies from crafting policies, to investigating and responding to incidents. Most importantly, it provides the right mindset and philosophy for helping schools prevent the problem in the first place and for empowering all members of the school community to work together. Policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students would all benefit from the knowledge contained in this book.”
- Jim Dillon, Author of No Place for Bullying (Corwin, 2012) and Director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention, Measurement Incorporated

“In a society that is grappling with the ramifications of the rapid pace of technological advancement, cyberbullying has emerged as a serious issue in education.  This book provides real-life scenarios, timely data, and best practices to help school leaders protect the children and adolescents in their schools.  All educators will find these resources useful in detecting and preventing cyberbullying and ensuring the safety of students.”
-Gail Connelly, Executive Director,
National Association of Elementary School Principals

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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