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What Do Title IX Offices Need to Know Now That Yik Yak is Back?

By Brett A. Sokolow, Esq., Chair, TNG Consulting LLC and President, ATIXA

Another scourge is upon the education field … someone is bringing Yik Yak back. The Chronicle of Higher Education just did a nice analysis on the reinvigorated app, here, for background.

For those of you not in the field before 2017, you may not be familiar with the history. This anonymous app was the source of significant headaches for schools related to student mental health, suicide, defamation, harassment, bullying, etc.

While there will be much conversation around this app if it picks up traction in the fall, here are some initial thoughts for Title IX administrators to consider:

  • Experts interviewed for the Chronicle article linked above suggest the app’s return may not be of that much interest to students given the more engaging platforms like Tik Tok they seem to prefer. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I hope they are right.
  • Some schools have geofenced the app so that it cannot be accessed by using institutional/school/district wifi.
    • This approach has been successful for a number of TNG’s clients in the past, though of course the app can still be accessed by smart devices off-network when they are within the five-mile proximity range for posting.
    • Whether such proactive censorship is necessary, possible, or even permitted by your college/school/district is a question to start exploring now with your IT offices and legal counsel.
  • With the return of the app, does it make sense to address our civility expectations pro-actively with our communities, or will this just draw more users to the app?
    • Such civility conversations can also be a form of remedy if the app begins to raise significant complaints again from campus/school constituencies.
    • Concerted efforts to vote down a Yak (what they call a post to the app) can take it offline quickly. Maybe schools should consider appointing a patrol of “external moderators” composed of at least five staff members (it takes five down votes to remove a post) who can help to instantly neuter Yaks that are problematic. If so, schools should develop a set of standards to help their “external moderators” decide what to try to remove and what to retain.
  • Those of us who engaged with Yik Yak’s original management found them fairly unresponsive to concerns in the later years of the OG app, and while the app now has new owners, the Chronicle article indicates they were not responsive to the Chronicle’s requests for information and quickly pulled their online profiles off-line, which is not a good sign.
  • Keep in mind that Yik Yak sexual harassment has been the subject of a federal lawsuit. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals established a precedent in the Mary Washington decision that should be taken to heart by all Title IX professionals. You are not powerless to address online harassment, and a response from a Title IX office that it will not take action because Yaks are free speech or that there is nothing a university/school can do to address them will likely fail to meet the expectations of Title IX.
    • Please review TNG’s analysis of that litigation, here.
    • Thus, we suggest you develop a toolkit of approaches as complaints start to come in, to ensure that your response to online harassment is not deliberately indifferent.
    • It’s unclear whether the 2020 regulations would have affected the Mary Washington outcome had they been released when that case was decided, but to the extent that university or school resources (including networks) are used to connect to the app, the school may have sufficient control to establish Title IX jurisdiction.
  • This is a good time to review the 2009 Hofstra University “Juicy Campus” OCR decision, as it gives some insight into how the current OCR may expect institutions to respond to future complaints about Yik Yak. You can find that decision posted here.
  • As always, if you have questions about road-mapping your institutional response, TNG Consulting is available to support your needs.

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