TODAY

TODAY   |  April 30, 2014

Yik Yak app under fire over bullying concerns

The smartphone app that launched last December takes cyberbullying to a whole new level, critics say: A growing number of users and a lack of accountability can be a dangerous combination. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>>> and talk about this controversial new app you may have heard of, popular among young adults and it's being blamed for a new wave of cyber bullying attacks. stephanie gosk has got this story. stephanie, good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. the smart phone app yik yak only launched last december, but how quickly it took off and the effect it's already had is serving as a lesson in social media and a warning for parents. for kids in high school and college, social media scratches an inch they can't resist. instant communication with everyone in their circle in the palm of their hand. the creators of yik yak made its even easier. no pass words, no names, just a virtual bulletin board pegged to their location. 23-year-olds tyler droll and brooks buffington created the app.

>> with yik yak, we want to connect people in an open way based on location and experiences.

>> reporter: posts are anonymous and only seen within a mile and a half of the user. their business, they say, is growing exponentially.

>> mainly, we're at college campuses. you have over 10,000 users on a big college campus .

>> reporter: but that growing number of users along with a complete lack of accountability can be a dangerous combination. recently, a high school in southern california went into lockdown for hours after a fake bomb threat was posted on yik yak. the same thing happened in texas and massachusetts. and then there are the nasty posts. one high school student wrote an article for "new york magazine", including examples of messages with names abbreviated. nobody is taking h. to prom because nobody has a forklift. how long do we think before a. b. kills herself? other posts are too graphic for morning television. across the country, multiple school districts have warned parents. in scarsdale, new york, they wrote some of these have risen to the level of sexual harassment. a principal outside of chicago wrote, posts can be especially vicious and hurtful since there's no way to trace their source.

>> it is much more damaging when we have the ability to bully, cyber bully, harass people without having anywhere to turn to identify who that perpetrator is.

>> reporter: buffington and droll say they have cooperated with the fbi and taken steps to rein in yik yak, including using gps technology to block the app from roughly 130,000 schools around the country and adding software to identify inappropriate content.

>> we see this as a growing pain right now. we didn't foresee this coming. we're doing all we can to prevent it from happening in the future.

>> yik yak can be used for good, guys. students at vanderbilt used it to help a fellow student with cancer.