App creates cyber bullying concerns in Johnson County school district

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. - A new social media messaging app is creating a cyber bullying nightmare in high schools across the nation after students in Mobile, Ala., were arrested for making terroristic threats on the app YikYak.

Now, the app has gained popularity in a Johnson County school district. Just last week, it caused problems at Shawnee Mission High School where students were posting hateful messages about each other.

Jordan Hall, a senior at Shawnee Mission East, said the fervor over the app erupted throughout the hallways last Wednesday. After the use of the app quickly grew, he saw some of the hurtful comments his peers posted.

"I mean, since it is anonymous I think people felt like they could be even meaner," Hall said.

He said he was bullied on the internet during middle school and encouraged his peers not to use the app.

"You get a little bit paranoid. You think, ‘What else are they saying about me? Are people texting stuff about me?’ It really eats you up inside,” he said. 

The app works off of a cell phone’s GPS. Every time a user opens the app, their location is updated. Users can post messages anonymously which are sent out to the 500 closest users within a five-mile radius. For high school students in one building, that means bullying can be felt anywhere.

It didn’t take long for administrators at Shawnee Mission East to find out about the app.

Principal John McKinney said administrators wanted to turn the negative messages into a teachable moment for students. School leaders posted positive messages about students on social media and asked students to do the same. Students even created their own Twitter handle to post positive messages about each other.

“Counter negativity with positivity. If someone had been mentioned in the negative posts, then immediately there were 10 posts that followed that said what a wonderful person they are,” McKinney said.

The app was intended for college students and under the company’s rules, it doesn’t tolerate bullying. But local school leaders feel differently, saying it’s harmful to students everywhere.

“I'm sure the designers had some grand plan for it but I don't think it has any place in public education," McKinney said.

41 Action News reached out to the app company’s owners Thursday night, but they did not respond back for comment. 

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