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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 6:00 am

 

The Moulton Middle School student who made a bomb threat on the smartphone application Yik Yak, which caused the school to be on lockdown for two hours last Friday, has been identified and will face disciplinary action from the school, Lawrence County Superintendent Heath Grimes said.

“We were able to locate the person who made the threat through information from the Yik Yak company,” Grimes said. “The person has admitted to it at this point and will be going before a disciplinary board on Friday.”

Yik Yak is a relatively new Twitter-like smartphone app that lets people post anonymous comments to users in a 5- or 10-mile radius. 

Like on Twitter, users can post short blurbs of text. But these “yaks” don’t have any name or user name attached to them. The messages can be read by the 500 “yakkers” who are nearest the writer. The app is free but the writer can pay to distribute messages to more people over a wider geographic area.

Yik Yak co-founder Brooks Buffington has said his invention was intended for use by college students as a way to connect with others on a university campus.

However, it has found great popularity among high school and middle school students across the country due to the private nature of the application.

Yik Yak has posed a problem for educators because it allows students to make potentially harmful comments while hiding their identities.

In Mobile County, a 16-year-old and 14-year-old were arrested after three schools essentially shut down for a day because of threats posted on Yik Yak. One of the juveniles has been charged with making terroristic threats.

Also, a Massachusetts high school was evacuated twice earlier this week after bomb threats were posted using the app.

However, while the allure of Yik Yak is its anonymity, Grimes said once laws are broken, the anonymity is gone.

“The thing that’s important for students to understand is I have not found a company or website or social media network that is exempt from having to comply with a criminal investigation,” Grimes said. “When they cross the line like that, that anonymity goes away. The information is not anonymous. It may be hidden, but it’s not anonymous.”

Grimes said the app has been banned from the Lawrence County School System network, but realizes students with 3G or 4G phones will be able to get around that ban.

However, if any student is found with the Yik Yak app on his or her phone, that student will face discipinary action, Grimes said.

“Anything that causes interference with the educational setting we have the ability to control,” he said. “What people put on social media is their business until it interferes with the education environment. At that point, we have the leeway to get involved.”

Buffington said his company will attempt to specifically prevent the app from being used on high school or middle school grounds.

“One of the things we were planning to do is to essentially geo-sense every high school and middle school in America, so if they try to open the app in their school, it will say something like ‘no, no no, looks like you are trying to open the app on a high school or middle school and this is only for college kids,’ and it will disable it and the app won’t work,” Buffington said in an interview with CNN earlier this week.

While the recent rise of social media has led to negative stories such as the Yik Yak bomb threat, Grimes said it is important to counteract the negative aspect of social media with its positive aspects.

“Social media can be a very positive thing and a way to get positive information out about the school system,” Grimes said. “I use social media as a communication tool, both personally and for the school system. We want people to see the good things that are going on and we want to use social media for the benefit of the school system, and share the positives that are happening.”

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