NORTHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont college president has blocked access to an anonymous social media site because he says it was being used for cyberattacks against some students.
Norwich University President Richard Schneider says he realized his decision to block access to the Yik Yak application via the school's computer system is largely symbolic because students can access it elsewhere, but he says he had to do something.
"I just know that it is hurting my students right now," he says. "They are feeling awkward, they are feeling hurt, they are feeling threatened."
Norwich has launched an internal investigation, but no reports of criminal behavior have been made, the school says in a statement.
Yik Yak describes itself as an anonymous gossip app that was launched last November.
In a number of instances elsewhere across the country, people have been charged with crimes for making online threats or harassing someone via Yik Yak.
Yik Yak says in a statement that like any social media app, it was liable to misuse. It says that it has blocked access nationwide from areas near most middle and high schools and that the app is only intended for use by people 17 or older.
"Additionally, the app monitors conversations and posts, and any negative or harmful behavior can result in the respective user being blocked, or altogether banned from future use," the statement says. "Yik Yak also finds that as more users sign up and start using the app, communities begin to self-regulate in a positive way."
Yik Yak was one of a number of new anonymous social media apps that have become popular in the last year, says Sameer Hinduja, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
"People were using it to say very cruel and malicious and even threatening and humiliating things," Hinduja says.
That's what prompted Yik Yak to block its use from areas within about 1.5 miles of middle schools and high schools, but not colleges, Hinduja says.
"The app owners were very clear they did not want to provide the same sort of geo-fencing and blocking around colleges because it's a little bit less of a vulnerable population, we're dealing with what we hope would be considered adults," he says.