Since its launch last year, the anonymous online messaging app Yik Yak has been linked to harassment, banned on U.S. school campuses and cited in several arrests for violent threats.  

Now, more than 53,000 people have signed a petition to shut down Yik Yak, accusing the app of facilitating hate speech and bullying.

The petition was started by 18-year-old Elizabeth Long of Atlanta, Ga., who says that, while she was recovering from a suicide attempt, she started seeing messages on Yik Yak telling her that she should kill herself.

Yik Yak allows users to post anonymous, 200-character messages on what has been described as a “virtual bulletin board,” without having to sign in or create a user name. When a user launches the app, he or she can see all the messages posted by other users within a 2.4-kilometre radius.

A scroll through Yik Yak from a Toronto location yields dozens of messages over a nearly 24-hour period, many of them about exams, crushes, lack of sleep and Netflix.

Users can reply to each post or vote it “up” or “down.”

Yik Yak’s user rules prohibit bullying and cluttering the message feed “with useless or offensive yaks.”

The app also says there’s “zero tolerance” for users who post people’s phone numbers.

In interviews, Yik Yak’s creators have said that the app was intended for college and university students older than 17. However, the messaging system quickly became popular among middle and high school students.

There have been reports of teenagers getting arrested and charged in the U.S. after allegedly making violent threats -- including bomb threats and warnings about imminent high school shootings -- on Yik Yak.

School authorities have also raised concerns about bullying and rumours spread through the app.

“With the shield of anonymity, users have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves -- and all of these things are happening,” the petition says.

The petition is calling on Yik Yak’s creators to “create a stronger set of community standards and employ a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and threats” – or remove the app entirely.

Yik Yak’s creators, Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, have said that they are working to keep high schoolers and younger teens off the app.