Anonymous Messaging Apps – Ban or Leverage Intelligence?

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Today’s trending searches in the App Store for IPhone: Aura, Air Transfer, Roadie, Vintagio.

Yesterday’s trending searches: YouTube Kids, The Voice, CVS Mobile App, Pancake.yik yak

Every day new apps appear and trend. While various apps come and go, others tend to linger; one of those being Yik Yak.

“Yik Yak features an ability to “peek” that allows any person with the app to view feeds from anywhere. In looking into locations for ten separate college championship meets occurring this past weekend and despite many teams in the college ranks adopting a “no phones on deck” policy, the Yik Yak boards of hosting locations have been inundated with a flow of messages. More often than not, these messages include bullying posts targeting an individual athlete, racial and homophobic slurs, and perhaps worst, they serve to give anyone in the radius an unflattering view of the sport and its competitors. It is clear that this a situation where several bad apples can ruin the whole, but that doesn’t excuse the behavior; the offensive posts often had “up-votes” in the high twenties.” (

The two founders, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, released the app in November of 2013. By May 2014, Yik Yak was ranked as the 9th most downloaded social media app in the United States. In relation to other social networking sites, Yik Yak is in its adolescent years.

Yik Yak is a social media app that allows users to anonymously create and view “Yaks” within a 10-mile circle. It is available for both iOS and Android users. Unlike Whisper and PostSecret, Yik Yak is location-based. It is designed for sharing content and thoughts with those in close proximity. This is intended to make the posts more intimate and relatable. Think of it as an “anonymous” online bulletin board. Like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the app is interactive. It allows users the ability to reply, like or dislike yaks.

Yik Yak, however, has a targeted audience, the 17+ age group. The app uses a technology component called geofencing. This allows Yik Yak developers to block the app’s accessibility in certain areas such as middle and high schools. View geofencing as an invisible dome blocking the app’s access within those restricted areas.

Yik Yak notice

What’s the problem?

College Administrators in a Frenzy

According to a story by the Huffington Post entitled Why Your College Campus Should Ban Yik Yak, the anonymous message boards “are like bathroom stalls without toilets. They’re useless, they’re sources of unhelpful or harmful conversations and they’re a complete eyesore.”

PS Magazine notes the tendency of users to be vulgar on the application:

“By its nature the app invites demagoguery, and as residual racism and sexism continue to drive the American cycle, miniature versions of the national drama play out between history and soccer practice. It’s not all race-baiting, of course—the vast majority of posts are genial ephemera: harmless, sociable, offhand in the semi-studied informality of Web-speak. Then there’s the in-between material: This last semester, on the campus closest to me, we saw black-market entrepreneurism (a 19-year-old banked $20,000 selling pot to move to Spain).”

But, as noted in the Huffington Post article, are the Yik Yak posts merely “useless” and an “eyesore”?


No. The app and others like it are ways to create an Intelligence Network and to learn and recognize the organic, raw views of students across college campuses. Yik Yak and similar applications are not going to just disappear because people do not approve of the content. As a result, we need to be proactive with the content posted. The saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” fits in this situation. When the Internet gives you an online bulletin board for students to post organic thoughts, learn how to use it to your advantage.

In the same PS Magazine article, the author shares a similar view:

Yik Yak offers faculty and executives alike a new, scary, but undeniably real glimpse into various elements of the undergraduate psyche. Professors can learn about certain patterns of holdover bigotry that inflect [sic] campus life in ways otherwise invisible to the adults in the room. We begin to get a sense for the fault-lines in the moral landscape of our school, the flags under which march the regressive forces of prejudice and doomed privilege.”

Monitor what is being said – the app is not college-age specific. Any member of management can download the app and “listen” to what is being said about the college campus.

  • Complaints ranging from the taste of the dining hall food to a professor can be noted. Through Yik Yak and other forms of the same complaints, a campus can be improved just by listening to the students.
  • At Firestorm, we encourage education in this regard, and building out an Intelligence Network. Can you predict a crisis before it ever occurs? Yes. One way is through monitoring and gathering of intelligence. A disgruntled student posting to Yik Yak may raise a red flag; a threat requires response and action. Although “anonymous,” these signs can spark the monitoring of other social channels and face-to-face interactions, or a Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment (BeRThATM).

BombThreatEvery day new apps appear and trend. As with Yik Yak, a new, first-of-its-kind piece of technology will test the structure of college campuses and businesses alike. New fads in technology will never change. What must change is how we react. We must be proactive.

Understanding Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment

It is critical that schools and organizations do all they can to identify those students and employees who need help, and intervene with trained resources that will provide the counseling and case management the individual needs. This raises the likelihood that the gun never comes to school, the sexual assault never occurs or the bullying is stopped before it becomes a problem.

Firestorm has created the BeRThATM – Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment – to assist schools and organizations in identifying, assessing, managing and responding to individuals or groups who may pose threats of violence. There are some guiding principles of the BeRThATM program:

  • Threat assessment must be part of an overall strategy to reduce school violence. Threat assessment by itself, absent an environment of respect, positive role models, communication between adults and students, conflict management and mediation, peer education, teachers and administrators paying attention to students’ social and emotional needs, as well as their academic needs, is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the problem of targeted school violence.
  • No single person has all the skills required to conduct a behavioral threat assessment and no single person should have the sole responsibility to assess the potential risk of a student or employee. The BeRThATM program starts with the Board of Education and engages the whole school community. It is designed using best practices and input from hands-on crisis management experience obtained by Firestorm principals and Expert Council Members, as well as the US Secret Service, FBI, Department of Education and other thought leaders on the topic of school and workplace violence.
  • BeRThATM provides school personnel with a wealth of information about behavioral threats as well as the availability of responding resources. For example, a student who turns out to be expressing a low level of threat may still be one with a high level of need for intervention, supervision and mental health services.  In the light of prevention, identifying a similar student and empower support services that may help address/resolve his or her problems, should be seen as a positive outcome for all involved.

Please call Firestorm at 770-643-1114 or reach out via our CONTACT form and let us answer any questions you may have to assure your school or organization is doing everything possible to keep students, employees and your community safe.

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