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Local schools dealing with 'Yik Yak' app bullying

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Bullying has always been a problem in schools, but in this day and age, it's taking on a new form.

A smartphone app and website called "Yik Yak" is the latest tool in cyberbullying. The app allows anyone to write anonymous posts about anything they wish.

Yik Yak was designed specifically for college students, allowing them to "easily chat with anyone near you" and "stay informed on local events and news," according to the Yik Yak website.

But in the wrong hands, the app can be used as a tool for gossip, bullying and harassment.

Tracy LeDuc had never heard of Yik Yak until she got a call from her child's school last week, explaining the trouble it's been causing in the classrooms.

"It's so anonymous, that these children can write whatever, there's no way to track back exactly who it is," LeDuc says, whose child is a freshman at Northridge High School in Middlebury.

That's exactly the point of Yik Yak: anyone anywhere can write whatever is on their mind without attaching their name.

But the anonymity of Yik Yak also makes it the perfect breeding ground for cyberbullying, which is what happened at Northridge on Thursday.

"We did at that time, have some kids who probably thought, 'This is going to be kind of funny,' and then it turned into, 'Oh, that's kind of hurtful,'" explains Drew Wood, principal of Northridge.

Wood and his staff sent emails to all Northridge students and called their parents, encouraging families to have conversations about Yik Yak, and the hurtfulness of cyberbullying.

The students, Wood says, responded in full force.

"Our kids were saying, 'Hey, we need to shut this down,'" Wood says, "So on Friday, we started looking into this, we had sea of students coming in, saying, 'Mr. Wood, this isn't right, we need to do this. My friend's hurting.'"

Yik Yak is only one of dozens of apps on the market right now that allow anonymous posting.

Eric Tamashasky, who specializes in cybercrimes within the St. Joseph County Sheriff's Department, says it's a trend that's getting out of hand.

"It's only law enforcement that has the ability to do the investigations to figure out who's disrupting the school day," explains Tamashasky. "Schools can't do it -- that's a real problem we have now."

He adds that Yik Yak's users may believe they are kept anonymous while posting, but police have been able to work with the app's creators to find identities. Just last month, several universities reported that Yik Yak commenters threatened to shoot their classmates. Those posters were arrested.

Principal Wood says the school district has contacted the company that created Yik Yak, asking them to create a geofence around their schools. This means the app would not work on, or near, their campuses.

But the real solution comes from the students, and their parents.

"I do try to teach my kids that as well. You can have an opinion, but there comes a point when it's actually harassment and bullying."

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