Yik Yak: an Outlet or a Problem?

Yik Yak is begrudgingly accepted on the Lawrence’s campus. We all know it exists, and some of us check it, but it is like an embarrassingly out-of-touch and distant family member. A lot of my friends wonder why I still even use this application when it is sometimes frustrating, and contains negative content or ignorant and racist viewpoints. I often use it to give people advice or post dog pictures myself. It is not inherently bad. As long as people are mindful about what impact they have with their posts, it can be a part of college life.

Yik Yak is a location-based mobile application that allows people to post 200-character anonymous threads. It is most often used on college campuses and that is where it has ignited most controversy. Articles have been written about the potential for cyberbullying and hate speech on the application. An incident of bullying in a high school in Atlanta brought the application to the attention of the media and raised concerns among many parents.

Some schools have either banned the application or started a petition to ban Yik Yak for such reasons. A petition was even released online to ban the application itself. Criticism of Yik Yak is legitimate and should be acknowledged. Unfortunately, it is very hard to stop what people are doing on their personal devices, but developers have taken some steps to dissuade bullying and other issues.

Developers continue to improve the reporting feature. Yik Yak is now only for people 17 years and older, and the application has been blocked on some high school  and college campuses. However, an official post from the developers on the issue of bullying suggests  that it is largely up to the community to change the feed.

The good thing about the application is the feature of down-voting. If a post gets a collective score of negative five, it is removed. Oftentimes, at Lawrence, posts that are egregiously prejudiced get down-voted straight away. That does not solve everything, of course, but it does reflect a positive side of our campus. However, more insidious examples of bigotry are sometimes allowed to stick around, though not without debate. For example, posts that say there is no need for people to be offended or upset about bigoted attitudes sometimes appear and are not challenged as much as they should be.

At Lawrence, I have seen all sorts of uses for the application. What I find most striking are the times people use it to reach out, or ask for help or advice. Often, they are met with chains of supportive comments and answers. This goes from serious mental health concerns to questions about teachers and exams. Troll responses get quickly down-voted on these threads. Having this anonymous outlet might be a very helpful thing for some people who do not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts in a non-anonymous setting.

This is in contrast to some degrading, racist, sexist or transphobic posts I have seen that are not removed or confronted. The posts and the ensuing debates and arguments have had negative effects on the mental health of people in the community. Yik Yak’s content is inherently a mixed bag.

One negative example is from when a group of students of color released their list of demands and Yik Yak was flooded initially with negative reactions and debates—this was very stressful for many people. In  situations like this one, the anonymity of Yik Yak was used to say things students might not share in a public setting for fear of being called out. Anonymity can be beneficial for venting, but in this circumstance, the only thing that was accomplished was making people upset.

The Lawrence Yik Yak feed reflects the varying beliefs and experiences on campus for better or worse. Using the application is a choice, and I do think there can be benefit to its existence. However, if we are to keep using it, we should make sure we keep our standards high and be aware of how the words we post come across to others.