Yik Yak Finds a ‘Spot in Students’ Hearts and Phones Next to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat’
An 11-month-old mobile app — sporting a pair of forgettable one-syllable words — has “found a spot in students’ hearts and phones next to Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.”
Students are tapping, scrolling, reading and sharing any thoughts they’d like — some of them R-rated — with people nearby whom they may or may not know. As DePaul University student Ally Zacek writes about “riding the Yak” in The DePaulia campus newspaper, “Our parents always warned us to ‘never talk to strangers,’ but they never warned us about something like this.”
The Connector at the University of Massachusetts Lowell similarly calls it “an anonymous user’s playground.” According to Connector student contributor Henry St. Pierre, “The app is chaotic, it’s fast, it’s inappropriate and it’s extremely inappropriate. … In my opinion, every post on Yik Yak is entertaining, and reading through all of them makes it seem like everybody’s part of one big, sometimes creepy, family.”
Yet, in reality the family metaphor falls apart when the truly creepy or cruder posts begin appearing and rising to the top of the app’s feed. The controversies caused by some of the more offensive material has even led one college in Vermont to ban the app from being accessed through the school’s computer systems.
“Some groups are concerned about the anonymous aspect that the ‘tight knit community’ offers,” Carthage College student Keelin Guinan confirms in The Current campus newspaper. “With the public able to hide behind a phone screen, cyber bullying is bound to be present. The jokes and ‘funny experiences’ that are shared are often mean-spirited and targeted at an individual or group of individuals. … Even though Yik Yak has taken measures to diminish harsh posts by allowing a certain number of down votes to remove a post and the geo ban on high school campuses, there is still plenty of room for bad judgment and hurt spirits.”
University of Maryland junior Katie Stuller points out in The Diamondback campus newspaper that these bad judgment calls have long-term potential consequences.
As Stuller writes, “[L]ately, many posts that should be considered disturbing are being up-voted. Users crack racist and sexist jokes. Posts about alcohol, drugs and sexual activity flood the feed. While some of the crude posts are slightly funny and entertaining, the majority of them could be filed as offensive or even considered hate crimes. Many students already have suffered the consequences of Yik Yak. An anonymous user will post the address of a party, the name of a drug dealer or a threat toward an individual. The results quickly outshine that user’s five minutes of anonymous fame.”
To that end, The Red & Black editorial board at the University of Georgia describes Yik Yak as simply the latest example of a reality we increasingly must accept as fact: “[N]early every American has become a cog in the ubiquitous social media machine.”
As the UGA student newspaper editors explain, “[A]s much as social media connects us, far too often does it simultaneously grant virtual megaphones to the obtuse and the thoughtless. Exhibit A: Ariel Omar Arias. All of 19 years old, this University of Georgia student managed to shut down the Zell B. Miller Learning Center — one of the biggest buildings on campus — with a post on Yik Yak [recently] that warned ‘If you want to live, don’t be at the MLC at 12:15.’”
Fortunately, on many Yik Yak feeds, such irrational anger is frequently balanced out by compliments or innocent, slice-of-life observations. Mean-spirited gossip is often interspersed with sweet missed-connection statements or proffers of advice. And separate exclamations of vulgarity and personal attacks are occasionally outvoted by genuinely funny punchlines.
Yet, amid the laughter, questions remain.
As the editorial board of The Chronicle at Duke University argues, “[T]he recent trend of anonymous social media platforms raises deeper questions about the effects of anonymity on the way we interact with one another. … For posters, the shroud of anonymity frees an individual to post a comment she might not have otherwise. Such freedom can lead to derogatory posts that are demeaning to Duke’s self-image, fuel cyberbullying and raise privacy concerns. But anonymity can also empower individuals hesitant to broadcast their names online to share insights. … It is too soon to see Yik Yak’s role on campus life, but as long as it is not used towards malicious ends, it seems harmless for now.”
Or as Bradley University student Kristin Dimaggio writes in The Scout campus newspaper, “It’s called Yik Yak, and it’s kind of ridiculous. Kind of.”