Are Anonymous Apps Taking Cyberbullying to a New Level?

High school girl on cell phone

Cyberbullying isn’t a new topic, but anonymous apps like Yik Yak are current hot-button issues related to peer harassment online.

What is Yik Yak? It’s a nameless gossip app where people can post comments without a name or handle attached to them. A Connecticut high school was brought to a halt due to the slanderous interaction of Yik Yak, as documented in this New York Magazine article.

Once again, cyberbullying is being put under a microscope at many schools, where policies may need to be reformed to accommodate new technologies in the future.

Cyberbullying: "46 percent of Niche users report bullying being handled efficiently."

Yet, in a survey of more than 125,000 Niche users, 46 percent report bullying being dealt with in an efficient manner with extensive policies with no tolerance for student-on-student harassment.

What is the bullying policy at your school?

There is an extensive anti-bullying policy, and bullying is not tolerated at all.46%
There is an extensive anti-bullying policy, but bullying is still prevalent.26%
There is not a serious anti-bullying policy, but bullying isn't an issue.22%
There is not a serious anti-bullying policy, and bullying is a problem.6%

Yik Yak capitalizes on Millennials’ growing dependency on text messaging and their phones. In a separate survey of more than 800 students, 42 percent of Niche users report text messaging as their top method of communicating with people in school, with 31 percent using email, 13 percent using Facebook, 10 percent simply talking on the phone, 3 percent using a tablet or another mobile device, and 1 percent using Twitter.

Cyberbullying Poll: How do you communicate with people in school?

However, 56 percent of Niche users report never using their cell phones for non-course-related activities, which could mean most of the bullying is done at home.

Cyberbullying Poll: How often do you text message or use your cell phone for non-course-related activities during class?

It’s also curious why an anonymous app like Yik Yak is wreaking havoc at high schools, while Whisper, another anonymous app popular within the same demographic, seems to cause much less peer-on-peer destruction, as highlighted in another New York Magazine article that calls out the biggest drawback being fact-checking (“[ . . . ] it’s possible that a significant number [of Whispers] are fake or embellished”).

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two apps.

Whisper vs. Yik Yak

Yik Yak
Includes picturesNo pictures
Hearts if you like it, with the option to replyUsers vote up or down, similar to Reddit
Moderators are supposed to help stave off bullying.No moderators
New users are required to certify they're 18 and older.Age rating 17 and up

The New York Magazine article singles out the importance of Whisper’s confessional feature as a way to declare something without fear of embarrassment, so as much harm as anonymous apps can do, they can also do some good.

The Bottom Line

Anonymous apps can be a dangerous form of bullying since you don’t know who’s talking about you, whereas in the past, you could put a face to a bully. Yet as new technologies enable peer-to-peer harassment, most schools seem to be handling the issue competently according to students (even the above-mentioned Connecticut high school addressed the issue immediately). After learning about the way their app was being used, the creators of Yik Yak immediately contacted Apple and requested an accelerated review of their app so they could block those under the age of 17 from abusing it, so it wasn’t necessarily a technology created to nurture cyber tormenting. The biggest enabler still appears to be the students themselves.