Civil rights groups target investors to pressure Yik Yak into cleaning up

App's response to harassment 'clearly insufficient,' lawyer says

Seventy-two civil rights groups have been calling on the social media app to take stronger action against cyberbullying and hate speech for weeks. Now, an attorney representing the groups asked two of the app's top investors to put more pressure on Yik Yak, Tyler Kingkade reports for the Huffington Post.

In October, the 72 civil rights groups asked the Education Department to require colleges and universities to protect students from harassment on anonymous social media apps. The groups called for federal guidelines on how to defend students from online threats based on race, sexual orientation, and gender.

One month later, the groups are only ramping up pressure. Attorney Debra Katz sent a letter Wednesday on behalf of the civil rights groups to two of Yik Yak's top investors, urging them to "impress on Yik Yak its duty to take responsibility for the racist, sexist, and threatening content it fosters."

The app has been embroiled in controversy, as some users make violent threats and use harassing language. Last week, a Northwest Missouri State University student was arrested after allegedly posting a message saying he was going to target and shoot black people. Threats of violence were also made against Howard University students last week on the app.

And Yik Yak isn't just host to threats of violence, the letter says, but also cyberbullying and harassment that targets women, members of the LGBT community, and other minorities.

"Yik Yak's response to all of this has been the same," the letter reads. "Head in the sand, business as usual."

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The letter calls on Yik Yak to create a more effective monitoring system and to more readily provide harassers' identifying information to schools.

Currently, users can "downvote" posts they find offensive, but the letter argues that this process "relies on majority rule, and that majority often chooses to target women, minorities, and unpopular viewpoints." The letter also criticizes the flagging process, saying contracting a Philippines-based company to review flagged content is slow and still relies on majority users to identify and report harassing messages.  

Constitutional considerations

But Yik Yak spokesperson Hilary McQuaide tells the Huffington Post there are federal and state limits to how much identifying information the company can disclose to universities. Yik Yak is not required to share information about the user, as long as the content is not threatening in nature—no matter how offensive it may be.

Did Yik Yak threats foreshadow a student's murder?

And just because the speech is offensive doesn't mean it's illegal—in fact, it's constitutionally protected, explains Samantha Harris, director of speech code research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "People have the right to express offensive opinions if they are not threatening people," she adds.

"We work hard to encourage a positive and supportive community environment on Yik Yak," McQuaide says. "We support school administrators in their efforts to encourage positive behavior and discourage inappropriate activity—whether on campus or own any social platform" (Kingkade, Huffington Post, 11/13).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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