Kids were walking down the hall, cell phones in hand, looking up, staring and pointing at unsuspecting peers.
But this was no movie. It was real, and it was a horrifying reminder of just how cruel some kids can be and how quickly cyber bullying can deliver a crushing blow to youngsters who value so highly what their peers think of them.
The scene was Staples High School in Westport, Conn., and the medium of choice for this cyber assault was a new app called Yik Yak.
What's Yik Yak?
Yik Yak describes itself as a sort of local bulletin board. It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them, as long as you're within a certain distance of each other — a 1.5 mile radius.
"News, funny experiences, shout outs, and jokes spread faster than ever through Yik Yak’s tight-knit community," the app says.
But it has been far from all fun and games for many schools, including at Staples last week when a surge of activity on the app spiraled out of control.
A Student Speaks Out
In a column published on New York Magazine's website, student Will Haskell provides a glimpse into how "A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt."
"With each post, another girl left class to cry in the bathroom, vent to her guidance counselor, or drive home," he writes.
And it just got worse as the day went on, to the point that Staples High Principal John Dodig reportedly took to the PA system to make an impassioned plea for students to stop using and looking at the app.
That backfired. And Dodig became a target on the app, too, Haskell writes. Two posts reportedly wrote:
- “Mr. Dodig molested me with a weed wacker.”
- “John Dodig touched my no-no parts.”
The attacks against students were even more hurtful and personal.
Staples Not the First, and Likely Not the Last to Deal With This
Yik Yak's founders, two recent college graduates, told Fox News that the app was created in December with a core audience of university students in mind. Yet the app has found its way into high schools across America, and many districts, like Westport and neighboring town Fairfield, are scrambling to address the issues it brings.
“Upon researching this we have learned that Yik Yak has been causing many issues at middle schools, high schools, and colleges around the country,” Fairfield Public Schools wrote in a message to the community. “The issues range from bullying behavior, racial harassment, sexual harassment, to bomb threats and threats of physical violence.”
Fairfield successfully lobbied Yik Yak to block the app from its three middle schools and two high schools, according to Fox News. Westport was able to do the same, writes Haskell, a senior.
“We’re proactively trying to keep high schoolers off the app,” Yik Yak co-founder Tyler Droll told Fox News. “It’s being used very well at colleges. We think psychologically high schoolers aren’t ready to use our app.”
'No One Was Safe'
"I remember when Formspring and Honesty Box infiltrated my middle school hallways. But Yik Yak felt different," Haskell writes. "It wasn’t just a new tool for the school’s bullies; it was also an equalizer. No one was safe, regardless of his or her place on the social pyramid."
He continues: "In conversations with our teachers, guidance counselors, and parents, we constantly hear, 'We didn’t have this when we were growing up.' Well, neither did we. Yik Yak and its capacity for anonymous, targeted destruction is new to all of us."
"Are we just supposed to ignore it?" he asks.
Share your thoughts in the comments below, and read his column in its entirety here.