Police investigate Yik Yak

Temple Police will discuss threats and other comments made on the app in a webinar scheduled for later this week.

Yik Yak allows users to anonymously post statuses viewable by people in their area. Andrew Thayer | TTN
Yik Yak allows users to anonymously post statuses viewable by people in their area. Andrew Thayer | TTN

A flurry of activity on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak from Main Campus has made Temple a hotspot for the app’s activity in the Philadelphia area, the app’s developers said. The amount of activity in the area has also caught the eye of Temple Police.

Yik Yak, which allows users to post short, anonymous messages that can be read by others within the user’s vicinity, has become increasingly popular on college campuses where students use it to share inside jokes, poke fun at rival schools or share a witty comment, said Cam Mullen, the lead community developer for the app.

But the platform that allows users to post gossip anonymously has also become a message board where users have posted a range of negative to potentially dangerous comments.

Mullen agreed that the anonymous nature of the app’s message boards “can sometimes breed not the best comments,” but he said it can also help students and university and local police forces become aware of potential situations.

Pennsylvania State University Police arrested a 20-year-old male student on Oct. 12 after police said he used the app to anonymously post threats that he was going to “kill everyone” on the College Park campus, according to the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper.

Similar arrests have been made at Widener University and at an Alabama high school.

Mullen said while the app does not track user’s names or phone numbers, it can trace IP addresses and pinpoint from where a user is posting to help alert police or any potential legal authority, a right stated in the app’s terms of service.

In addition, Mullen said the app has a team of seven moderators that review posts flagged by users for racism, homophobic comments or harassment, with a tendency to “err on the side of ‘take things off.’” Posts that receive five “down-votes” are also removed.

During a recent phone interview with Mullen about the app’s popularity, the stream of comments from Main Campus was full of postings about a robbery that had been reported in the parking lot of the Fresh Grocer less than an hour beforehand.

“It’s awesome that people are using [Yik Yak] as a source of news,” Mullen said of the posts, which included warnings but also jokes about a suspected vehicle described in a TU Alert. “We take threats really seriously.”

Charlie Leone, the executive director of Campus Safety Services, said Temple Police and the Dean of Students’ Office will conduct a webinar this week addressing possible uses for the app to help with campus patrols, including students’ proclivity to post about off-campus parties.

While Temple Police has used social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube in the past to send out alerts or investigate crimes through online postings, Leone said one concern with Yik Yak is how to determine the validity of statements made on anonymous threats.

“Most of it is not related to [Temple Police] at all, most of it is just crazy stuff,” Leone said. “But somebody throws something in there that’s serious, my hope is that maybe Yik Yak can help in that if a student sees something on Yik Yak they would call us.”

 John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu and on twitter @JCMoritzTU


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