Over the past few weeks, yet another social media network has taken K-State and other college campuses by storm. I was hanging out with a few friends when I first heard of Yik Yak, an app that’s essentially an anonymous, localized version of Twitter. Users can post 200-character messages that are seen by other people in their vicinity. I decided to download it and see what all the hype was about. I wasn’t disappointed; it seemed like a fun way to send good-natured jabs at folks in Manhattan, mostly K-Staters.
For those unfamiliar with the app, a little more background info is in order. Yik Yak uses your phone’s GPS to display posts from people in your town. There are no profiles, usernames, or passwords, and users can upvote or downvote “yaks,” or the individual messages, they like or dislike. With the exception of a little pin on a map that shows where a post is sent from – an option that can be turned off – it’s completely anonymous for better or worse, according to a blog post by “The Yak” on their website.
“People ask us all the time why we felt the need to make Yik Yak anonymous, and the answer is quite simple,” said the post. “It gives people a blank slate to work from, effectively removing all preconceptions about them. Anonymity levels the playing field. You can be the quietest person on campus and the most popular poster on Yik Yak. The only thing you are judged on is the content that you have created, nothing else. Anonymity is a beautiful thing.”
The pros and cons of Yik Yak go hand in hand. Users can speak their mind, and I mean really speak their mind, without consequence. As a staunch supporter of free speech and the First Amendment, I value this ability. However, like any privilege, it can be abused, and there’s no doubt that Yik Yak frequently is.
The app really started to take off in Manhattan during the week after I downloaded it. As word spread, more and more people started using it, and posts gradually devolved from the tongue-in-cheek humor I first encountered to something far more vulgar and offensive. If you use the app, you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, suffice it to say that some very mean-spirited individuals got ahold of it and started to post their darkest and most depraved thoughts. This is no exaggeration – things got really nasty. There were even times that names of individuals and specific greek chapters were brought into the mix.
As unfortunate as this is, it’s the nature of the beast. Anonymity attracts as many vile characters as well-intentioned users, and no amount of rules or regulations can combat that.
The “Rules & Info” section on the app encourages a sense of community, saying that, “herds of yaks are strongest when they work together and watch each other’s backs.” A simple set of six rules discourages bullying and specifically targeting other yakkers and cluttering feeds with useless or offensive yaks. However, given the anonymity, the only way these rules are enforced is through downvotes or when a yak is reported. If your yaks are downvoted or reported too many times, you can be warned or suspended.
The most important takeaway from the “Rules & Info” page is that, “yaks should not join a herd until they are mature enough.” This applies both to posting content and reacting to it. By downloading the app and participating, you’re opening yourself up to seeing stuff that will probably offend you. That’s just the way it is. Whether you deem it worthwhile to sift through the junk in order to enjoy the decent content is your prerogative, but having a thick skin is extremely important.
Like most viral apps (remember Flappy Bird?), chances are great that Yik Yak will run its course and fizzle out sooner rather than later. Until then, see it for what it is: an anonymous forum where people will post absolutely anything, with or without your approval. Whether it’s constructive or offensive, true or false, the posts will be there. The choice is yours: be offended and allow them to negatively impact your life, or take them with a grain of salt and move on.
Mike Stanton is a sophomore in mass communications. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.