With the advent of smart devices, apps and the Internet of Things have come massive changes to the traditional classroom – changes that on the whole have greatly benefitted students, teachers and administrators alike. But some apps, especially those involving social networking, can present challenges and even dangers within the educational environment if not properly managed. In particular, anonymous social networking apps, which includes Yik Yak, require special attention by both educators and the IT staff.
The concept of anonymous message posting predates the Internet, going back to the early dial-up Usenet newsgroups and message boards. With the surge in web-based social media and mobile devices, anonymous social networking sites and apps proliferated. Last year, a New Yorker magazine columnist reviewed 25 such apps. While many of these anonymous sites have since disappeared, Yik Yak, launched in November, 2013 is thriving on college campuses.
Yik Yak is a virtual bulletin board where users anonymously post short snippets of text (200 characters maximum) that other nearby users can view. “You can think of it as a local, anonymous Twitter,” says co-founder Tyler Droll. As a measure of its importance, Yik Yak has received $73.5 M in funding from well-known VCs, including Tim Draper, Azure, and Sequoia. Draper, the founder and managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson has this to say, “Yik Yak allows the truth to come out unfettered by identity. Free speech without the backlash from the thought police. I expect this company to make a big impact on the world.”
On the other hand, anonymous social media can be used for bullying and abuse if not properly managed. To minimize abuse, Yik Yak and other anonymous sites implement a number of techniques, including both automated algorithms and offshore specialists to spot and remove troublesome posts. Also effective is the Yik Yak self-regulating upvote/downvote system. Posts, which are called Yaks, are listed by their upvote/downvote score and Yaks that receive five downvotes are deleted. Although users are anonymous, they have a Yakarma, based on the upvote/downvote scores of their Yaks.
The Benefits of Yik Yak
Yik Yak is becoming an important channel for late-breaking news. When a student opened fire on Florida State’s campus last fall, many learned about the news on Yik Yak before they received an email from the university. The network can also provide an insider’s view of what the students are thinking, which can help defuse problems before they escalate.
“Yik Yak is a wonderful way to gauge the level of frustration about anything at the College. I think of it as a canary in a coal mine warning system. ” Mitchel Davis, chief information officer, Bowdoin College.
Universities have also used Yik Yak and other social media to help solve criminal investigations. The honesty encouraged with anonymous posting can create a valuable information channel. Staying in the loop on campus activities is much easier when campus police are able to see exactly what students are thinking.
Minimizing the Dangers of Anonymous Social Media
Improperly managed, Yik Yak can be a major headache for college administrators. Not only can it be used for bullying and abuse, but it has been implicated in cheating on exams.
To help cope with anonymous social media like Yik Yak, a growing number of universities and colleges are turning to network-powered application analytics solutions that have the ability to capture, aggregate, analyze and report on network data. These tools, like Extreme Networks’ Purview™, help IT staffs see what is happening on the network, and which applications students are spending time on. These solutions also enable universities to enforce policies for managing traffic, limiting which applications can be used in various locations.
Earlier this year, the University of Mount Union IT department received a call from student affairs asking for help locating a student deemed to be at high risk as indicated by messages posted through Yik Yak. With help from the authorities, the IT department was able to get the external IP address from Yik Yak, whose policy is to disclose user account information in response to a verified emergency. Assistant Director of IT Dave Smith took the call and immediately pulled up the Purview network analytics software from Extreme Networks on his console.
“It was a time sensitive situation,” said Dave, “so there was pressure getting a call at 10:30 at night with this circumstance… for me it was easy to go into Purview with the IP address and grab all of the information I needed including the access point they had recently connected to and what applications they were using. It was about a 30-35 minute turn around, including a little bit of extra research I could do just to make sure. I didn’t want to send student affairs in the wrong direction. It was nice to be able to send them to the right person at the right time.”
As universities grapple with increasing costs, technology disruption, mounting student debt and competition, CIOs in higher education are under an immense amount of pressure. They have plenty of things keeping them up at night, and apps like Yik Yak should not be one of these worries. Fortunately, with the proper infrastructure and solutions in place, they need not be.
For more on the topic of anonymous social media, see With Great Anonymity Comes Great Responsibility; Yik Yak’s Success Story.