Yik Yak at Lawrence

By Margaret Johnson

Yik Yak is the newest craze among social media platforms. The increasingly popular app allows its users to post anonymously and creates a feed based on its users’ location. While anonymity may seem appealing to users because of the protection it provides, the app’s intention of protecting its users also protects those who misuse the app.

Anonymity encourages users to post things they would not typically say. When a user’s name and face is not associated with his or her words, users are not held accountable. The lack of accountability makes way for racist, homophobic and sexually explicit comments, as well as threats, to be posted and spread. There have already been many high-profile incidents in which the app has been used inappropriately, even dangerously.

As far as the use of Yik Yak on college campuses, similar problems have occurred. At Colgate University there was a three-day sit-in on campus during which 300 students protested the treatment of minority groups and the lack of diversity on campus. The protest was sparked by racist comments posted on Yik Yak such as, “White people won life, Africa lost, sorry we were so much better than you that we were literally able to enslave you to our will.”

A controversy at Rowan University in New Jersey revolved around a sex tape that was posted online and shared through Yik Yak. Two male students posted the tape without the permission of the female student shown in the tape.

The video took place at the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity of which both male students were members. The male students are now facing suspension from the university for violating the Student Code of Conduct and have resigned from their fraternity. No criminal charges are being made.

The SUNY Canton campus received multiple threats from a student via Yik Yak. The first threat read, “This is a message to all SUNYCanton students, if you value your life do not go to class tomorrow, I plan on killing myself but before that I plan on taking as many of you worthless piles of crap, be ready.”

The campus experienced a lockdown, during which classes were cancelled and students were taken into shelter and escorted by police throughout campus. The police investigation was able to connect the crime back to a student who is now in custody.

Pennsylvania State University experienced similar threats via Yik Yak. A student posted a threat that he would bring an assault rifle and kill everyone on campus. After the student was discovered by the police and arrested, he claimed that the post was intended as a prank.

The problem Yik Yak presents is clear. The app provides a mask, or rather a cloak of invisibility, for bullies and ill-intentioned people to hide behind. And while scrolling through your Yik Yak feed at Lawrence you might not come across any threats or racist or homophobic comments, what you will find is a considerable amount of distasteful posts that don’t represent the Lawrence University student body in a positive light.

There are a fair share of posts that are appropriate, that share what life at Lawrence is like—being sleep deprived, not getting any work done over Reading Period or critiquing Bon Appétit on occasion. These posts are not problematic, and perhaps they do allow a sense of community to be created virtually among Lawrence students, as the makers of Yik Yak intended.

However, the sexually explicit comments and the talk of being drunk negatively reflect students at Lawrence. Although these comments might be directed toward a very close group of friends, no student would publicly attach their name to such comments.

On a general level, Drake University Professor Nancy Berns says it best: “There is an element of dehumanization to it. When you strip away that human contact, there is a tendency to stop thinking about the receiver of your message as another person with a life and feelings.”

Within the “Lawrence Bubble,” problems such as bullying and threats may not be an issue, but users still need to keep in mind the image they are projecting of Lawrence University and its student body. Lawrence users need to think about the reception of their posts by other users so as to avoid the controversies other campuses across the nation have faced.

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