FREE INTERNET SAFETY CLASS FOR PARENTS
What: A cyber-safety class for parents. No one under 18 is allowed.
When: March 31.
Place: Rancho Santa Margarita Bell Tower.
Time: 6 to 8 p.m.
The class is free, but registration is required. Attendees can register at
www.cityofrsm.org/classregistration or 949-216-9700. The class identification number is #540610 C1.
HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN STAY SAFE ONLINE
Orange County sheriff's Deputy Clayton Cranford offers these Internet safety tips for parents:
• Ask your children about what they see and do on the Internet.
• Check privacy settings on all social networks and stay updated on changes.
• Monitor your child's device to see what websites he or she is visiting, whom he or she is text messaging and what applications he or she is using.
• Set up your own accounts and follow and friend your children.
• Review their friends and followers.
• Know your children's passwords and usernames, and check them periodically.
• Don't let your children know the password to their phone's iTunes account. You need a password to download new apps.
• Don't allow them to keep their computers or phones in their rooms at night.
• Don't allow them to use anonymous texting apps like Kik Messenger and Yik Yak or provocative social media sites like Ask.fm.
WHAT IS YIK YAK?
The free smartphone application allows users to post anonymous messages that show up in a stream for the first 500 users within a five-mile radius.
The app updates the user's location every time that it's opened. Users must have GPS activated on their phones, but no registration is required and the app says it doesn't track user identities. The app asks that users be 17 or older, but its rules call for users to be older.
"Herds of yaks are strongest when they work together and watch each other's backs," says the app's Rules & Info page. "Yaks should not join a herd until they are mature enough, so no one under college age should be on Yik Yak."
SAN CLEMENTE – Someone vows to streak across campus if the comment gets enough likes. Someone else accuses a girl of taking too many “selfies.” Another is surprised that a certain school employee hasn’t yet been mentioned, labeling her the “hottest adult on campus.”
But one commenter in San Clemente isn’t impressed, writing: “someone threaten the school again this app isnt interesting anymore.”
Welcome to the anonymous world of Yik Yak, a new GPS-reliant smartphone social media application that allows users to post messages – without their names attached – to other nearby users. Harmless in many cases, the app has drawn attention in recent weeks as school officials in several cities across the nation have reported problems, including in Orange County, where a message sent earlier this month claimed a boy was strapped with bombs at San Clemente High School.
The anonymous report was false. But it prompted officials to lock down the San Clemente High as sheriff’s deputies scoured the campus with bomb-sniffing dogs. Investigators still are trying to determine who wrote the message.
They’re also now working with Yik Yak’s creators – a group of South Carolina college students – to block the application from all public schools in Orange County.
“Because we can’t do it ourselves,” said Jared Dahl, chief of the Orange County sheriff’s Juvenile Services Bureau.
For many local parents and educators, the March 6 lockdown at San Clemente was the first time they’d heard of Yik Yak. And that’s not unusual in today’s feverish tech startup climate: New programs emerge every day. Some last, some don’t. Some attract younger users, some don’t. Experts say it’s crucial for adults to stay educated, if not about the specific applications, then about the bullying and gossip that can accompany them.
“We want to make sure we’re focusing on the behavior rather than trying to chase down and ban every new piece of technology that comes down the pipe,” said Marcus Walton, spokesman for the Capistrano Unified School District. “That’s an impossible task for the federal government, let alone a school district.”
Clay Cranford makes a point to stay updated on social media trends. As a child-safety deputy in Rancho Santa Margarita, Cranford trains other Orange County sheriff’s deputies working in schools on how to monitor sites to keep apprised of what students are saying.
There is a site called Ask.fm, which encourages users to rate each other anonymously. And there’s Kik Messenger, which allows users to instantly connect with strangers for private chats.
But applications like Yik Yak are particularly worrisome, Cranford said.
That’s because they allow users to instantly connect with people who live very close by. The standard Yik Yak setting sends messages to 100, 250 or 500 users within a five-mile radius at no charge, depending on the user’s settings. Users can pay more for more viewers, including $4.99 for 10,000.
“It has all the features of a problem social media app,” Cranford said. “If I was a parent, I wouldn’t want my kid to, number one, have the ability to communicate anonymously, and then have that person be within walking and driving distance of my kid.”
Dane Franklin, a 16-year-old student at San Clemente High School, said the app is popular among younger students and seen as a source of entertainment. But he and his friends wonder if it’ll soon fade away like another teenage trend.
“It’s just funny,” he said. “You put things on there to make people laugh.”
Zak Bennet, 17, said students often disparage others through Yik Yak because of the site’s anonymous nature.
“People can say stuff about anyone they want,” he said. “It’s stupid. With three O’s.”
In the case at San Clemente, students had told staff about rampant bullying on Yik Yak about two weeks ago, prompting an administrator to download the app and check it out himself. The administrator saw the disparaging comments, but also saw something more alarming: the comment that referenced a purported threat, involving a boy, identified by name, who was said to be inside the school and strapped with bombs.
Investigators then posted on the site trying to find out more.
“We didn’t get any viable response, so we had to gear up,” Dahl said.
For hours, students weren’t allowed to leave their classrooms as police swept the school looking for explosives. Investigators found the boy named in the comment and determined he had no bombs. They don’t believe the boy was involved with the threat.
But as of now, they don’t know who was the source because the site doesn’t track the identity of its users.
“Hence why this is a problem right now,” Dahl said.
And it’s not a problem unique to San Clemente.
Threatening messages on Yik Yak in February led to extra security at three high schools in Alabama, and a middle school there was locked down March 6 because of a similar threat. Another threatening message prompted officials to evacuate a high school in Massachusetts, and high schools officials in the Chicago area have asked parents to delete the app from their children’s devices.
Those incidents as well as the lockdown at San Clemente High School have been mentioned in news reports across the country as Yik Yak continues to gain attention.
Yik Yak’s co-founder, Brooks Buffington, told Chicago journalists that the app’s creators are working to block the app in that region because of educators’ complaints. Buffington also said they’re trying to block it specifically from being used inside school buildings.
Buffington created Yik Yak last year with Tyler Droll and Dougie Warstler, a senior at South Carolina’s Furman University. Buffington and Droll graduated from Furman last year, according to an article in Droll’s hometown newspaper in Georgia, the Gwinnett Daily Post. It’s not the first app they’ve created – the Sept. 20 Daily Post article said the men were launching an app called Dicho that allowed users to post questions with two answers for other users to pick. That app’s website now redirects to Yik Yak’s website, which was down for maintenance as of Thursday. The men introduced Yik Yak in November, according to the app’s Facebook page.
Droll did not return phone calls seeking comment. He and Buffington have said they created Yik Yak to serve as a forum for college campuses and never intended for younger teenagers to use it.
“They didn’t understand the potential misuses, like a lot of people don’t,” Dahl said.
Dahl said sheriff’s officials thought to inquire about shutting down the app in Orange County after learning of Droll and Buffington’s cooperation with other jurisdictions.
School Wi-Fi systems typically filter social media websites, but students can still access the sites through their phones. And blocking an app from being used inside a school won’t stop students from using the app outside of school.
That’s why experts say it’s so important for parents to focus on behavior and communication, not specific pieces of technology.
“We’re not going to ban all the games on school computers,” said Kris Linville, educational technology coordinator for the Irvine School District. “We’re going to teach kids that they don’t play games on school computers.”
Cranford urged parents to talk to their children about social media and find out what websites they visit.
John Bajorek, assistant principal of Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate School, recalls talking with a girl who had posted so much information on her Instagram photo account that strangers could learn her class schedule and her after-school activities.
“The biggest part of it was bringing Mom in and showing her what’s been posted,” Bajorek said. “She had no idea.”