App invites anonymous whining

“When you get an email notification about spring class registration and you’re just like, am I even gonna make it through this semester?”

That’s one nugget of insight on the Yik Yak feed for California Baptist University. It’s toward the top of the “Hot” tab as I write this, with 32 likes. It must be a slow night; I’ve seen yaks on CBU’s feed with almost 100 likes.

Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app for smartphones, works similarly to Twitter. You have a 200-character limit on posts, which appear either chronologically in the “New” tab, or by popularity – you can like or dislike posts – in the “Hot” tab.

The app is marketed toward college students, so it uses your location to find a college campus near you and groups you with other users nearby.

It’s mostly harmless, at least on the CBU feed. Yakkers complain about school/parking/their singleness/whatever’s bothering them in the moment. It’s like CBU minus the filter, so there’s plenty of all the glory of humanity on display.

“If I fail this semester it will be because I’m hooked on Yik Yak and Netflix.”

“Batman could be yaking amongst us and we wouldn’t even know it…”

“Just backed my car into a pole…#NotMyFirstRodeo”

Gems. It must be the anonymity that inspires people to say whatever happens to pop into their mind, no matter how inane.

The anonymity also, apparently, encourages a mean spirit. According to CBU’s Student Services Office, there have been reports of cyberbullying on the app. On Oct. 3, CBU’s Dean of Students, Anthony Lammons, sent an email to all students regarding use of the app. The email stated that students were using Yik Yak “to engage in harassment, verbal or written abuse, the threat or use of physical violence, coercion, bullying, and/or the use of profanity.”

Rightfully, CBU takes the threat of harassment and violence seriously. I have not seen anything that could be construed as cyberbullying in my observation of Yik Yak over the past weeks. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, though. Yik Yak censors posts that receive too many down votes.

Yik Yak has rules, of course, about how the app should be used. A la “Fight Club,” the first two rules are the same:

1. You do not bully or specifically target other yakkers.

2. You DO NOT bully or specifically target other yakkers.

Yik Yak may not be innocent, but it isn’t actively malicious, at least on the CBU feed. And the app takes measures to protect its users; other rules include the threat of suspension if a user is repeatedly reported or receives too many dislikes on his or her posts, and Yik Yak removes posts that receive more than five down votes.

I understand CBU’s concern. Cyberbullying is a real thing, and anonymity on platforms like Yik Yak make it easier. But there’s more to Yik Yak than rumors of bullying.

It’s a silly app where people vent. I don’t see the point in anonymously broadcasting every useless thought that comes to mind, but I also don’t see the harm in it.

About Rebekah Wahlberg

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