“Trang Pak is a grotsky little byotch.” “Dawn Schweitzer is a fat virgin.” “Amber D’Alessio… she made out with a hot dog.” Do these quotes seem familiar? They’re from the famous 2004 movie Mean Girls. The “Plastics” have a book, the Burn Book, in which they write mean rumors about their classmates. It’s malicious, disturbing, and downright mean… And the fictional actions of these girls are taking place in real life.
Recently, an iPhone app named Yik Yak has been gaining popularity. The app allows anyone to anonymously (and without any sort of profile) to write about anyone s/he wants. Additionally, the user of the app can see anything any user within a one-and-a-half mile radius has posted. Just like its predecessors (i.e. Formspring, Ask.fm), this app not only allows for, but promotes and perpetuates cyberbullying. I decided to download the app to see what high school students in my area have been posting, and almost every single one of those posts were negative. In fact, some of them were disturbing. They were obscene, vulgar and very obviously false – but who is going to stop a student from posting these things?
In the famous Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, the Court ruled that if certain freedoms (i.e. of expression, of speech, etc.) “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school,” schools are able to take action and restrict these freedoms (Source). So even based off of that, appropriate action by school districts should be taken. When something a student says, does, or wears interferes with the normal operations of a school, it makes sense that action should take place.
But Tinker v. Des Moines occurred decades ago, and the ruling might seem a little antiquated. Now, with technology, bullying is even easier – it doesn’t have to happen face-to-face. If I want, I can post something on Yik Yak outside of school grounds. Does this mean the school is allowed to get involved? The answer is yes, at least in New York. The Dignity for All Students Act “seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.” This includes cyberbullying (Source). Like with Tinker v. Des Moines, schools are allowed to intervene in situations such as postings on Yik Yak, since they could create uncomfortable environments for students. They could interfere with a student’s ability to concentrate on his or her studies or his or her self-perception.
So that covers the logistics. Schools are allowed to get involved with cyberbullying and are allowed to discipline students using Yik Yak to make others feel uncomfortable. But what is the real reason behind the use of Yik Yak in the first place?
As I said in my article about birthday collages, this is probably just the media studies student in me talking. However, I think the reason Yik Yak has become so popular is because it allows students to express their frustrations with other students (or teachers, administrators, etc.) without actually having to directly confront those people. If you’ve seen Mean Girls, you would remember the scene where Regina George throws copies of the pages of the Burn Book all over the floor of the school and every girl starts to fight with each other. Imagine that in real life. While hyperbolized, I can just picture two students saying crude and untrue things to each other face-to-face and a fight ensuing. The digital façade allows a student to say what he or she wants without any consequences.
The same goes for having awkward conversations with others over text rather than in person – it removes the awkwardness, the discomfort, and the need to be civil. For the high schools that have taken action, I commend them. Others should follow suit. There’s a reason so many high school students say they “can’t wait to get out” of their hometowns. This digital confrontation could very well be a part of that.