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Seen At 11: Yik Yak, Anonymous Texting App, Stirs Up Controversy

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Experts are worried that one of the newest and fastest-growing smartphone apps is providing a cloak of anonymity to people sending texting messages, leading to bullying, taunting and threats of violence.

With the help of the app Yik Yak, nameless users across the country have made shooting and bomb threats, which are causing school lockdowns and even evacuations, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.

As Dorothy Tucker of WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago reported last week, Yik Yak is a social chatting app for which posts can be seen from all users within a five-mile area – except the senders are anonymous.

It has already been used for nefarious and criminal purposes, according to published reports. Last month, someone used the app to threatening to shoot up a Catholic school in Mobile, Ala.

“One (text) said, ‘Watch out, I’m going to shoot up St. Ignatius School,” the Rev. Bry Shields, pastor of St. Ignatius Church and president of the McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile where the threat was issued.

A suspect was caught in that case, according to CBS affiliate WKRG-TV in Mobile. But New Jersey lawyer and cyberbullying expert Parry Aftab said she believes threats using Yik Yak can happen anywhere because, she said, the app is really about one thing.

“This site, in the guise of giving anonymity and the ability to express yourself, is encouraging hate,” she said.

She said it has taken bullying and taunting to new heights because kids have no fear of getting caught.

Taunting became so bad in the Chicago area that some schools there threatened disciplinary action against kids using Yik Yak to bully others. The developers of Yik Yak recently disabled the app in the area, as it studied safeguards to keep minors from using it.

The company has said it will also try to prevent it from being used at high schools and middle schools.

“It’s causing, like, a lot of problems like self-esteem and, like, friendships are being lost and stuff, so it’s like, not really good,” Henry Ferolie, a student at Chicago’s Whitney M. Young High School, told WBBM-TV’s Tucker.

Tri-State area parents that CBS 2 spoke to were clearly worried about the app.

“I think it’s a really bad idea right off the bat,” one man said in Manhattan.

“Kids don’t have any sense of the consequences of what they do,” a woman said. “It shouldn’t be allowed at all.”

“That’s not a good idea,” another woman said. “Kids are so vulnerable at that age.”

Yik Yak did not respond to CBS 2’s request for an interview, but its website explains the company approach.

“Anonymity levels the playing field,” Yik Yak said on its site. “It gives people a blank slate to work from, removing all preconceptions about them.”

But experts disagree and warn that it’s the anonymity itself that leads to trouble.

“If your kids are on an anonymous site, they’re there for no good. Either they’re going to be hurt, or they’re going to be hurting others.”

A Yik Yak co-founder on Thursday told the CBS-affiliated tech website CNET that the development team is looking into ways to prevent underage users from accessing it, CBS Chicago reported.

Yik Yak was supposed to be a virtual “bulletin board” for college students, he told WBBM Newsradio in Chicago.

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