News

Anonymous social media apps pose new concerns

From staff and wire service reports
October 7th, 2014

Yik Yak leads a new generation of anonymous apps creating headaches for K-12 administrators

anonymous-apps

Yik Yak in particular has come under fire for a series of abuses involving students.

A new generation of mobile apps that let users post gossip, secrets, threats, and other random thoughts anonymously has school leaders worried about the fallout from such posts—and urging their students to act responsibly online.

The most popular of these services is a free app called Yik Yak, launched by two Furman University graduates last year. Available for both iPhone and Android devices, Yik Yak allows users to post anonymous messages that can be read by others within a certain geographic radius.

Users vote these posts up or down, sending the most popular comments to the top of the feed. The messages stay online for varying lengths of time, based on popularity, but eventually disappear. Yik Yak reportedly was the third most popular app downloaded from Apple’s App Store during the week of Sept. 24.

Yik Yak isn’t the only app that allows such anonymous posts; others include Rumr, Secret, and Whisper. These mobile apps are gaining popularity because they allow people to share their thoughts immediately without fear of repercussions or others judging them, said Karen North, a social media expert at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“People are not hard-wired to keep secrets or even to want to keep secrets,” she said. “People want to get those secrets off their chest. And now we have apps that allow people to say and do things anonymously.”

Joseph McGlynn III, a doctoral researcher with the Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin, has been studying these kinds of apps and says there are good reasons for their existence.

“Apps such as Secret and Whisper are valuable in that they can provide a platform for people to discuss sensitive topics,” McGlynn said. Users, he said, can speak more freely with less fear of judgment, retaliation, or social alienation.

But while these apps are gaining users and raising millions of dollars in venture capital funding, they also are raising worries from privacy advocates who say anonymous users can too easily spread false rumors, malign people by name, and bully their peers.

Yik Yak in particular has come under fire for a series of abuses involving middle school, high school, and college students around the country.

(Next page: How Yik Yak users have made headlines for inappropriate use—and advice for parents and educators in dealing with these anonymous social media apps)