Trying to keep a reign on your kid's online activity is tough. Add smart phone apps to the mix and you'll be quickly overwhelmed.
There are smart phone apps to help you compare prices, pass the time and stay connected to your neighbors. Most of the millions of apps for Androids and iPhones are harmless, but several new apps promising to hide your identity are creating chaos in local high schools.
On April 16, someone posted an anonymous bomb threat to a high school on Yik Yak. The app works like a virtual bulletin board where anonymous posts can be seen by anyone within a mile and a half radius.
The principal of that high school sent an email to parents asking them to delete the app Gaggle from their children's phones, writing that students were using it to "post extremely hateful speech, photos and drawings."
Gaggle is also anonymous, and while the school district blocked the app from WiFi on its campuses, students can and do use it away from school and on their cell phones.
At campuses all over pictures were found posted of students and teachers with comments calling them fat. Others pile on, adding their own viscous comments. Sometimes silly, posts are more often hateful and racist. One picture posted near the same high school shows someone holding a bag of pot.
"It just turns nasty so quickly," said Kathy Boehle.
Boehle works for a company paid by school districts to monitor student communication. Ironically, her company is called "Gaggle" too.
Boehle refers to it as "the good Gaggle."
Her company has come up with a list of anonymous apps parents should know about.
"Keep an eye on your kid's phones," said Boehle. "Look at the photos that they're taking."
She says many kids are using an iPhone app called Photo Swap to anonymously send nude photos to strangers. There's no registration required, so no one ever has to know it's you.
Askfm is an app and website that allows anyone to post anonymous questions and answers to you, but Boehle says the questions are usually graphic and sexual.
Secret is an iPhone app that lets you "speak freely" and "share anything" with people in your address book, and no one knows who you are. But even those messages can and do turn ugly.
"I think there should have been more thought into how this could be used in a negative way," said Dr. Jennifer Blaine, associate superintendent with another school district.
Below are some statements released by app creators:
Yik Yak Response:
"Yik Yak is an anonymous app built to foster responsible interaction and build networks in hyper-local areas. We're very disappointed in how many have chosen to misuse our app. We recognize that with any social app or network, there is the likelihood for misuse from a small group of users, so we have put specific algorithms in place to prevent this from happening. We have geo-fenced almost all primary and secondary schools and turned the app to 17+ in stores to ensure the user base is age appropriate and parents can easily block the app on their children’s phones. Also, if a school administrator or parent sees the app being used maliciously at a high school or middle school, they can go to our website to request that a particular school be geo-fenced. The app monitors conversations and posts, and any negative or harmful behavior will result in the respective user being blocked, or altogether banned from future use. We continue to build out this technology to ensure positive interaction, but we are also finding that as more users sign up and start using the app, each community begins to self regulate itself in a positive way." - Tyler Droll, CEO and Co-founder, Yik Yak
Thanks for reaching out to us about Gaggle. Gaggle is strictly intended for people over 17 years of age. We're actively looking into all technical options to prohibit the violations of our terms of service.