There’s a saying we’ve heard our entire lives … “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.
Whomever coined this “thick-skinned” sentiment obviously had no idea today’s modern age would ensure that words are permanent and on display for all to see … and join in the malice.
There was a time, a simpler time, in which people said something offensive or negative to another and it stayed amongst those in attendance and the handful of others that heard about the event second hand.
Today, that is not so, and misuse of modern technology is the culprit!
A popular smart-phone application called Yik Yak, was born with the best intentions but has quickly evolved into a widely used bullying pulpit.
Yik Yak was a college-developed app that allows users to post messages and comments, but only within a five-mile radius and up to 200 characters long. College students used it to post things such as cancelled classes, open parking spots on campus and menu choices available at the campus cafeteria. Harmless communication posted anonymously by its users. Download and sign up require no information or proof of age and you can begin viewing yaks and responding instantly.
The app’s popularity and usefulness quickly spread nationwide and eventually left college campuses.
High school students use the app, but shouldn’t. To download and install the app, you need to be 17+ years old. And, there is geofencing … basically a dead zone for the app that allows access to a “read-only” version of the app.
Geofences are set up for all schools that request one. South Lafourche High School has a geofence, but that doesn’t stop the students from making posts after school, away from campus, about fellow students and teachers … often times not in the most flattering light, and done entirely anonymously.
“When people see things online, they think it’s the truth,” says SLHS Principal Gaye Cheramie. “Yik Yak is a cruel, cruel app. Kids are cruel to other kids on it anonymously. And, it’s a form of bullying,” she added.
The geofencing and schools’ cell phone policy helps to eliminate online bullying. Halls are green zones, meaning students are permitted to use their phones. Red zones, or ‘no phone use’ zones include restrooms and certain classrooms as decided by the teacher.
“Each teacher can set their own cell phone use policy in the classroom,” says Cheramie. “If used correctly, it can be a great tool. Basically we carry mini-computers in our hands that allows us to access information instantly,” she added.
Richard Guerry is founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication, or IROC2 for short. He travels around the country and talks to schools about online safety and responsibility. He has given a two-hour presentation numerous times across the United States and Canada, nearly 2,000 over the past four years.
“We don’t want to say ‘don’t use the technology,’ we need to say ‘use the technology responsibly,’” he said.
“How we use the tool determines the outcome. We want people to use the technology responsibly.”
According to Guerry, the content we create was never intended to be private, no matter the claims websites or apps make.
“We have to be OK with creating content that we don’t mind becoming public or permanent,” he says. “We will never know every tool and every app out there. We need to know the guidelines for keeping us safe,” he added.
Guerry also demonstrates ways to prevent and avoid harmful digital and online behaviors such as sexting, cyber bullying, digital blackmail and exploitation.
Guerry was at Central Lafourche High School in September delivering his two-hour presentation. He will be back in Lafourche Parish delivering his presentation to South Lafourche High School in the spring.
Cyber bullying and misuse of technology is something SLHS Principal Cheramie knows all too well about.
Cheramie is eager for her students to hear Guerry’s presentation on digital safety and ways to avoid the perils of public and permanent inappropriate content.
“Times are not the same. Today, I remind students that their online behavior is a permanent record that follows them,” she says.
And she’s correct! Oftentimes, employers performing background checks on potential employees will look at their social media posts and activity.
“Employers have resources devoted to doing social media background checks. That stuff you posted way back when could come back to haunt you,” she added.
When someone posts a comment on Yik Yak, it’s permanent … usually. Readers can “like” or “unlike” the comment. After five “unlike” votes, the comment is removed.
Also, if a comment is flagged and reported it is oftentimes removed.
Geofencing, 17+ age requirement and the ability to flag and remove inappropriate posts are all mechanisms to keep the site from being used as a bullying tool by high school students. New technology brings new challenges and new rules and inevitably rule breakers.
Yik Yak may be new to the digital bullying game, but the game has been going on for some time.
“We have had problems in the past with other social media platforms, not just Yik Yak,” says Cheramie. “We’ve met with groups, individuals, administrators and school board in the past. Before bullying was an isolated incident. Now, it is accessed, commented on and witnessed by hundreds or thousands of people,” she adds.
“We really have a great group of students here at SLHS,” she says. “It’s just scary to see what some people post when they think no one is watching.”
Posted on Fri, November 14, 2014
by Marc Kimball, Contributing Writer