Last time out, we looked at common sense means of protecting oneself and loved ones against online harassment by pro hackers one might inadvertently enrage, perhaps in an online discussion group.

The offense they take and the lengths to which they will go mayn’t seem comprehensible so we need to be more cautious than in offline life. Bullying has gone global; they may be outside the law.

One social platform, Yik Yak, has come under fire recently for empowering the yahoo. From TechCrunch:

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app for iOS and Android. Developed by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington and launched in 2013, Yik Yak allows users to anonymously create and view “yaks” within a 10-mile radius. Users can contribute to the content by writing, responding and up- or down-voting “yaks.” The app targets college campuses as their go-to source for news and gossip.

Unlike most social media, Yik Yak doesn’t verify its 3.6 million users so, no surprise, users say pretty much whatever they like.

Much as one might over a coffee with friends. As in, “It was so dull I could have sworn the TA shot me with a tranq gun.” or “She wore that? But it wasn’t a costume party…” or “Let me guess: Which one is the maze test rat and which one is him?”

Uncharitable, yes. But the privacy of such social noise can dampen the effect of things we might better not have said.

Social media amplifies the effect of ill-chosen remarks. The words are heard later, stripped of voice and context, by the subjects themselves, perhaps by a random crowd of opinionists, or even persons who have something to gain from an uproar.

That’s how Yik Yak became controversial. At times it gets so hot that students and administrations have banned some users from premises, or even campaigned against its existence.

For example, “Colorado College Suspends Student for Two Years for Six-Word Joke on Yik Yak,” “Yik Yak on campus: Safe space to vent, or forum for hate? (Or both?),” “The Yik Yak black attack” and “Shut Down the app “Yik Yak” (a petition).

The firm’s founders say they are responding:

As for cyberbullying, Buffington pointed to steps that Yik Yak has taken to fight back, like better filters and allowing users to offer more details when reporting potential abuse. As for things like bomb threats, he said the app now detects potential threats and sends a pop-up warning to users before they can post. That might not seem to carry much weight, but Buffington said that in many cases, those the app just needs to “remind someone of the implications” of their actions”— he recalled one bomb threat poster who, after being tracked down, said they just thought it was going to be funny.

“Kids are kind of stupid,” Buffington said.

Sure, but there is nothing like social media for making that a bigger deal than it need be.

A recent article at The Conversation tells us

Users of Yik Yak can share their thoughts and subject them to judgement through an audience voting system. User engagement is encouraged through “Yakarma”, which rewards contribution through points for posts, replies and votes – and for audience engagement, such as “up-votes” of posts and the number of replies received. A “down-vote” system – where users can note their approval of posts – is an important feature that theoretically puts users in control of offensive content. Any post receiving five down votes is automatically removed.

But if a post is inflammatory, the fire may be out of control by then.

Meanwhile, lecturers are trying to learn to cope with the relative ease with which bad news reviews of their teaching style can spread through Yik Yak:

Universities’ social media policies often highlight the “dos and don’ts” of how academics should best exploit social media to disseminate their own research. It is also time to include advice to faculty members who become “yak famous” on how to avoid and combat the associated risks. It only takes five supportive colleagues to remove offensive content. A combination of clear policy and evidence of authority presence in a network are most effective in managing boundary-breaking behaviour.

But some advice to profs at The Conversation goes way too far in my view:

Universities and their academics and students should also try to create more positive discussion on such platforms. A recent study of the twitter discourse around Channel 4’s Benefits Street series provides encouragement to recognise that abuse and discrimination on social media can be countered with alternative narratives. As well as up and down voting, the structure of Yik Yak gives the right of reply – enabling focused rebuttal of abuse. More.

The view from O’Leary’s desk: When I am hired to teach a course, I teach it. I try to do a good job. I am not answerable to every punk on the planet. Nor would I recommend entering into an extended discussion with same.

All students get the right to review me at the end of the semester. If they don’t like that, they can try dropping the course in time to get their money back. Otherwise, tough.

Quite honestly, take it from an old journo, over time, no solution to these types of problems beats growing an alligator hide.

See also: The internet makes sins public in a way no previous medium easily could.

The following vid is Yik Yak’s view of itself. The social media are a digital high seas, or else the last free country on Earth, depending on how you see them. So read, watch, and decide for yourself:

 

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

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Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...