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Vermont college blocks anonymous social media site

NORTHFIELD, Vt. — The president of Norwich University has blocked access to an anonymous social media site because he says it was being used to make cyberattacks against some students at the Northfield school.

Norwich University president Richard Schneider said he realized his decision to block access to the Yik Yak application via the school’s computer system is largely symbolic because students can use it through their smartphones, but he said he had to do something.

‘‘I just know that it is hurting my students right now,’’ he said. ‘‘They are feeling awkward, they are feeling hurt, they are feeling threatened.’’


Norwich has launched an internal investigation, but no reports of criminal behavior have been made, the school said in a statement.

Yik Yak describes itself as an anonymous gossip app that was launched last November.

A number of cases across the country have occurred in which people have been charged with crimes for making online threats or harassing someone via Yik Yak.

In a statement, Yik Yak said that like any other social media app, it was liable to misuse. It said that it has blocked access nationwide from areas near most middle and high schools and that the app is only intended for use by people 17 or older.

‘‘Additionally, the app monitors conversations and posts, and any negative or harmful behavior can result in the respective user being blocked or altogether banned from future use,’’ the statement said. ‘‘Yik Yak also finds that as more users sign up and start using the app, communities begin to self-regulate in a positive way.’’

Yik Yak is one of a number of new anonymous social media apps that have become popular in the last year, said Sameer Hinduja, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. But ‘‘people were using it to say very cruel and malicious and even threatening and humiliating things,’’ Hinduja said


That is what prompted Yik Yak to block its use from areas within about 1½ miles of middle schools and high schools, but not colleges, Hinduja said.

‘‘The app owners were very clear they did not want to provide the same sort of geo-
fencing and blocking around colleges, because it’s a little bit less of a vulnerable population,” he said. “We’re dealing with what we hope would be considered adults.”