As the University of South Carolina geared up to start their first day of school in the fall semester, I decided to look into Yik Yak, known as an online space where college students share their thoughts without reservation. Where better to look for truth than an anonymous message board system frequented by the young?
As expected, there are plenty of inane, offensive, and mean-spirited comments; however, there are also heartbreaking observations, matter-of-fact statements, and hopeful reflections on the future. While there are serious concerns about its dangers, this app is certainly an uncensored glimpse into the mind of today’s college student. These yaks below are chosen on the basis of popularity, humor, horror, or just plain wonderment.
—Actual Yaks viewed from 8/13-8/23 –
“Jell-O shots at 650 Lincoln tonight”
“Finished my resume and completed my LinkedIn, still do not feel like an adult”
“Will give bjs for bull street parking pass”
“Freshman Advice – Don’t forget your fedora on move-in day”
“Stoners – Smokes 1 bowl, instantly knows how to solve world’s problems.”
“I want cinnamon rolls”
“So bikebros, how safe is cycling around campus?”
“The things I do to prepare before sex and then guys do nothing like must be nice”
“I’m glad I have a car charger for my book & cigarette. Technology is going far”
“To the people next door having sex, player 3 is about to enter the game”
“I just want to be in a place financially where I can get a puppy.”
While the value of these yaks may be debatable, it does seem to possess an engaging natural rhythm that unabashedly inserts itself into the world. Perhaps this is representative of the human condition, where we are all alone and nameless, shouting into the void, desperately seeking a connection? Or not.
—How does Yik Yak work?
Yik Yak, currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, was started by two fraternity brothers, both graduates of Furman University in South Carolina. This app allows users to privately share thoughts with the “herd,” usually a community based around a college campus. Users post their “yaks,” and anyone within a several mile radius can view, respond, like, or dislike (called up or down voting). Yakking in Charlotte, for example, posts to an entirely different community than the one located in Columbia, since it is determined by geography.
So why use Yik Yak if you’re already on Facebook or Twitter? Yik Yak is reported to skew towards younger users perhaps endowed with ample leisure time and wishing to occupy a space where they won’t run into their parents. In addition, locality is something that Twitter or Facebook does not offer as readily. With Yik Yak, there is no need to friend or follow individuals to build your community. Simply download the app and tap into the community determined by physical location. In contrast to Yik Yak, competing social media sites easily make other types of connections. Twitter excels at connecting the user with celebrities and national trends, while Facebook easily builds relationships with known friends and family. Personally, I use Twitter for people that I want to know about, Facebook for people that I do know, and Yik Yak for people that I’m scared I might know.
This proximity aspect is what distinguishes Yik Yak from other anonymous messaging services, and this has brought about its recent mentions, mostly negative, in the news. Often, students attending a talk in an auditorium might open Yik Yak to see who posted a comment on the proceedings in real time. Unbeknownst to the speaker, sarcastic commentary can fill the room via Yik Yak. This is what helped to distract from Ted Cruz announcing his bid for the 2016 presidential election at Liberty University earlier this year. The discontent of some students attending this mandatory event became the story, and served as a counter to the desired image of thousands of student supporters. Yik Yak, like other social media, has proved to be a powerful tool for undermining the agenda of the speaker or institution.
However, the claim of one of Yik Yak’s founders that it was “made for the disenfranchised” seems overstated, especially when many cannot afford to attend college, the app’s target audience. Though it’s probably true to say that many students feel marginalized and appreciate an anonymous outlet, what if the anonymous few are guilty of impacting the rights of others with a tool almost perfectly made for cyberbullying? It has been reported that Yik Yak was used to threaten members of a feminist group before one of their members was murdered, propose a gang rape at the Kenyon College women’s center, and sexually harass a professor at Eastern Michigan University as she lectured in front of a class filled with students. One local yak at USC (with 66 upvotes) mentioned a sorority by name: “CVS is already sold out of plan B. ____ were having too much fun last night I guess.”
In response to these disturbing behaviors, Yik Yak claims to employ better filters to catch violent language and full names from being displayed. In addition, middle or high school grounds should be protected by “virtual fences” that prevent the app from being opened, but I had no trouble using it on the grounds of Brookland Cayce High School near me. As with all technology, this real-time, locally based running commentary of thoughts can be used for good or for evil. Members of the Yak community might convince someone in need to seek help or to charge ahead with destructive behaviors. For now, Yik Yak has put much of the responsibility of policing the yaks on the community itself. Five down votes by users will remove the yak from view, but will this be enough?
by Betty Ford