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By Shannon Connellan
April 29, 2014
By Shannon Connellan
April 29, 2014

Regina George would salute a rumour-fuelled US high school, with news of a gossip app running amok in classrooms in Connecticut. Creating havoc in the small town of Westport, the Yik Yak app functions like a Mean Girls meets Gossip Girl trolls-only Twitter: a stream of anonymously posted insults about the students of Staples High School.

Developed under the tagline "spread the word, grow the herd," the Yik Yak app has been described by the unrelated developers as "acting like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users around you. It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them. News, funny experiences, shout outs, and jokes spread faster than ever through Yik Yak's tight-knit community".

Nice idea, but in the hands of high school students, things have turned predictably nasty. Individuals can post 'yaks' anonymously and read horrible things about themselves in turn, as if high schools weren't already great stages for bullying and rumour mongering.

In a candid, first-person account from current student Will Haskell, published in New York Magazine, he explains the cinematic reaction of the student body. "When you watch stupid movies about teenagers in high school, you roll your eyes at the classic fallout scene in which the hallways are filled with whispering students all gossiping about the same thing. This was exactly what Thursday afternoon looked like at Staples," he says. "In the course of a few periods, the most private, deplorable thoughts of the Staples student body had been put into writing. And the worst part was that no one knew who was writing this stuff — maybe the asshole you’d expect it from, or maybe the quiet girl in the back of Spanish class."

Scrolling through the Yik Yak news feed, students could read and post anonymous comments about their classmates — inevitably resulting in a sea of racist, sexist and homophobic hogwash. "L. M. is affiliated with Al Qaeda." "The cheer team couldn’t get uglier." "Nobody is taking H. to prom because nobody has a forklift." Even the principal was targeted.

Burn Book

Haskell hadn't taken his school for a gossip hive, although Snapchat sexting and Facebook cyber bullying had done a good job of making students uneasy about school-based online shenanigans. "It's a good, medium-sized public school in Westport, Connecticut. We don’t walk through metal detectors on our way to class, and the main job of our school "security force" is to hand out tickets when students' Jeeps and Audis park in staff parking spaces," he says. "I've found Staples to be a happy, functional, though complexly hierarchical place. The three most popular senior girl groups are the Bots, the Bedfords, and Acrimonious. There are Albone and the Rowdies, both popular senior boy groups. There are the Amigos (popular junior girls), the Cool Asians (none of whom are actually Asian), the Fairies (the soccer team, not the theater kids), the Players (the theater kids, not the soccer team), and many others."

Haskell explains the Yik Yak app found its way to Staples from the neighbouring town of Fairfield, after students from both schools had come across the app on a trip to the Dominican Republic. Fairfield had already been hit hard by the app, now it was Staples' turn.

"Yik Yak gave everyone a chance to take down enemies, reveal secrets, or make shit up in order to obliterate reputations," says Haskell. "You didn’t need internet popularity in order for your post to be seen; you just needed to be within a 1.5-mile radius of your target and your audience."

Yik Yak has been available for download since November and has only now been blocked on Staples grounds after students began avoiding school to dodge the physical and online bullying barrage. But the app has also raised $1.5 million in funding and remains anonymous. For now, the Yik Yakkers on campus can take some advice:

Via New York Magazine.

Published on April 29, 2014 by Shannon Connellan


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