Yik Yak: Harmless Fun or Social Media Bully?

By: Kate Tattan and Alex MacDougall

If you’re a college student here in the Worcester area, chances are you’ve heard of Yik Yak, the newest social media hub. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Yik Yak is completely anonymous and only picks up “Yaks” in a 1.5 mile radius, eliminating the need for followers. While the anonymous nature of the app has made it popular among students, Yik Yak has been a continuing source of controversy, especially among school administrators across the country.

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See the recent New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/technology/popular-yik-yak-app-confers-anonymity-and-delivers-abuse.html

Many colleges across the nation allege that the app provides a new, anonymous forum for cyber-bullying and other forms of hate crimes, including racism, sexism, and homophobia. Some colleges have elected to geofence their campuses – meaning that yaks can’t be sent or received on campus grounds – effectively banning Yik Yak.

With over nine colleges in the city, Worcester is a hotbed for Yik Yak use. Despite the large number of users, Worcester colleges have managed to avoid having any real issues with Yik Yak.

Chief of Worcester State Campus Police, Michael Nockunas, says the police do monitor apps like Yik Yak for potentially dangerous behavior. However, he also says that it is not a high priority for campus police.

“We wouldn’t do an investigation unless there was a complaint from the victim,” said Nockunas, “and those complaints have been few and far between.”

Even with Yaks like these, Worcester colleges have managed to have little to no complaints.

But is it all really that bad. According to Dan Hunt, a professor of Communications at Worcester State, social media outlets such as Twitter and Yik Yak have many positive attributes.

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Yik Yak’s initial purpose was to give students a more “democratic” voice without a need to gain followers or popularity to be heard. Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, the founders of the app, wanted to give popularity to the underdogs of social media. At Furman University, fraternity brothers Droll and Buffington noticed a discrepancy between the most popular Twitter accounts and everyone else’s. The creation of Yik Yak rids the user of any social boundaries.

“Students can use the platform to express their opinions on any subject without being reprimanded or judged for those expressions,” says Hunt. “Also, it is a quick and easy way to retrieve information from other students anonymously.”

Hunt acknowledges some of the challenges a college faces when dealing with an anonymous app. However, he strongly disagrees with the idea of banning the app from campus, believing it to be a violation First Amendment rights. Instead, he says, students should take it upon themselves to stop offensive behavior.

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“One of the best methods would be for students to advocate for their fellow peers to stop the offensive behaviors. On YikYak, users can vote down the posts that violate the rules of the app and the posts should be taken down,” said Hunt.

“Eight hours a day, watching it and then trying to track them down is just wasting manpower and time,” says Nockunas.

Regardless, both Nockunas and Hunt agree that the app is of little concern in comparison to other social media outlets. Hunt reminds us that Yik Yak is not the only social media site with negative comments. “There have always been issues with anonymous negative posts on YouTube,” says Hunt, as well as any other of the various sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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