“Did you Yak that?” is a question that can be heard from at least one college student’s mouth everyday. Apps are like viruses in dorms: once one person gets it, everyone else will get it quickly after. Yik Yak, an app where users can submit anonymous quips about campus life, is the app of the moment for college students. “Yaks” range from weather reports to campus crushes to the equivalent of drunk texts. Yik Yak can be a source of entertainment, and sometimes a distraction from homework, but with the anonymous nature comes a user’s ability to release uncensored comments that can be borderline racist, homophobic, or sexist. This type of commentary would be ostracized on other social networks like Twitter or Facebook, so it is with great shock that these comments are so readily made on the app. The bravery that comes with talking behind someone’s back is directly correlated with Yik Yak, just amplified to the next level.
The creators of the app, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, are already aware of the abuse issues that have sprung up from the app’s genesis; however, the creators are focusing on minimizing bullying by high school students as the app is not available in areas with primary and secondary students, not focusing on abuse by college students. The app is only intended for a user demographic of seventeen and older in hopes that college students will use it more maturely. This does not seem to be the case on some campuses. In late September, a female college student was arrested in Indiana for posting a shooting threat; as the app connects users with their locations, the perks of anonymity, such as posting about a crush or an embarrassing moment, can also create fear for the nearly undetectable danger for users. Recently at Norwich University in Vermont, the college’s president made a move to block the app due to the increased awareness of the “cyber attacks” that take place on the app. The app offers a feature to “up” or “down” a Yak and most of the time, vigilant students will down vote inappropriate Yaks. While this feature is important and safeguards a community from fostering too much bigotry, it is still rather shocking to read through the discriminatory comments that do spring up on a regular basis.
Go on Yik Yak on a weekend night and one can quickly field through countless of comments that are fueled by late night activities, but also are inherently sexist with Yaks about sexual targeting and the like. Even more shocking are the Yaks that appear on a regular basis that may seem innocent, but are actually inappropriate due to their racist nature. While the app may be useful for alerts about campus activities and free food, it also is a sounding board for those who may be innately racist to truly express their sentiments without much consequence. It is true that it is possible to track the owners of truly salacious and inappropriate content, but how often is a discriminatory comment really going to be reprimanded? The nature of anonymity ensures users that the biggest form of rebuke they will face is the disappearance of their Yak.
It is impossible to truly discount Yik Yak as simply an app for closet bigots as it is truly an interesting new format for collegiate student communication. Never before has there been an app where students can be united by their proximity and also relate the humors and maxims of their particular campus. It is almost a way for a student to say what everyone else was already thinking and get some gratification for it in the form of up-votes. Yik Yak feeds into the hunger for what college students find most interesting: one another. One must consider how different campus cultures can affect the type of content that appears as one campus’s Yaks might focus solely on campus events while another’s focuses on daily gossip. Yik Yak is the right app for a time of hyper-communication with a seemingly unpredictable future; this future is in the hands of its users to ensure their personal Yik Yak communities are safe and free of abuse.
Crook, Jordan. “Yik Yak Is An Anonymous Messaging App Aimed At College Campuses”. AOL Tech. American Online, 19 February 2014. Web. 25 September 2014. <http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/19/yik-yak-is-an-anonymous-messaging-app-aimed-at-college-campuses/>.
Ring, Wilson. “Norwich University Blocks Yik Yak App on Campus”. Huffington Post College. Huffington Post, 24 September 2014. Web. 25 September 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/norwich-yik-yak-block_n_5878658.html>.
“Yik Yak app Putting Teens Behind Bars, Police Warn”. Fox News 8 Indianapolis. WGHP, 24 September 2014. Web. 25 September 2014. <http://myfox8.com/2014/09/24/yik-yak-app-putting-teens-behind-bars-police-warn/>.