WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – In the same day this week, a Westchester teen and Long Island teen learned the same lesson – anonymity isn’t real.
In separate incidents on Tuesday, police say the teens used an anonymous app called Yik Yak to post threats to their schools. Both suspects were located by police using GPS provided by the app and then arrested.
The Yorktown teen allegedly wrote “the school will explode,” while in the area of Yorktown High School after school hours Tuesday, according to Yorktown police.
“It is important to consider longer-term consequences of actions, especially in light of school safety,” Yorktown Schools Superintendent Dr. Ralph Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday.
The suspect was charged as a minor with making a terrorist threat. However, the Long Island teen was charged as an adult, making it a felony, for allegedly threatening a bomb attack and shooting at Mount Sinai High School.
Yik Yak posts are seen by other users within a 1.5-mile radius. Combined with the promise of anonymity, students have used the app to cyber-bully classmates and make threats of violence similar to those from the last few days.
Anti-bullying and social media expert Josh Gunderson saw this in his own backyard. A Massachusetts high school received two bomb threats within hours of each other from Yik Yak posts in early March. He has visited some Westchester school districts to educate parents on these easily-abused apps.
“Anytime somebody can anonymously contact you it’s the worst idea in the world,” he said. “That scares me that they are able to do that. Kids who think they’re anonymous think they’re all powerful, and they’re not.”
He suggested parents should ask their kids weekly what social media sites they’re using, and create their own accounts and follow their kids.
In the Long Island incident, a parent discovered the post and contacted school administrators, who then called the police.
Yorktown schools hope to create the same sense of awareness.
“Our goal is to create a strong sense of responsibility regarding Internet use that is considered by students and families both in and outside of school,” Napolitano said. “In this regard, we depend on parents and guardians to help promote good decision making practices and to model responsible use of digital resources.”
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