Yik Yak, the trendiest new app, is leaving its tracks all over the Principia campus. It is a social networking app very much like Twitter, but with one major exception: anonymity. On the app, you can post to a community of users in a specific geolocated radius, all without having to give your real name or even a username.
There is an feature on the app that allows users to “upvote” a post indicating that they like it; conversely, one can “downvote” a post that they find offensive or simply don’t agree with. There is also an option to “flag” a post if they feel that it is truly inappropriate.
This anonymous social media platform is the brainchild of 23-year-old fraternity brothers Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, who have degrees in business and software development respectively. It was released in November of last year, intending to afford college-age students an anonymous platform to communicate within a 1.5-mile radius from their phone on college campuses. A post – also known as a “yak” – can reach 500 people (although that cap is set to increase) within the radius, and presently there are in excess of 240,000 users across the country on various campuses, as reported by USA Today.
“We wanted to enable people to be really connected with the people around you, even if you don’t know them. It’s like a virtual bulletin board, a hyper-local version of Twitter where people can use it to post information and everyone in the area can see it,” Buffington explained in a March interview to the International Business Times.
The company was adamant about the necessity of anonymity, stating, “We think that keeping people anonymous allows everyone to let their guard down and have a blank slate. On Yik Yak you’re not judged on your sexuality, race or religion, or how popular you might be – all you’re judged on is the content you’ve created.”
The app, however, has led to incidents of cyberbullying among middle- and high-school users. The company has taken the unique steps to pay to block usage – referred as “geofencing” – of their app on 85 percent of secondary school campuses across the nation.
In an ongoing spirit of cooperation and willingness to ensure positive use of Yik Yak, the company writes, “The app requires a certain level of maturity and we find that harassment really doesn’t happen that much, at least on college campuses. Communities mature pretty quickly and actually self-police themselves. All it takes is for a user to be reported a few times and they’ll be suspended [from using the app].”
On the Principia campus, freshman Kent Heckel has been credited with, and accepts the honor of, being the person who brought Yik Yak to Principia during new student orientation. Heckel appreciates the ability to post humorous yaks but worries about the misuse by some when posting inappropriate content or bullying. Although he admitted that the factor of anonymity has its drawbacks, he suspects that the app will go well on campus, especially if people really get into the positive aspects like yakking happy thoughts, sharing ideas from Mary Baker Eddy, and humor.
From his first yak, Heckel has enthusiastically encouraged other students to “join the herd.” Teachers and administrators were surprised at how quickly the app spread throughout the campus.
Ferguson House resident counselor Dan Schneider volunteered that he reads virtually every yak – although he doesn’t post any himself – because “they are hilarious and extra funny because they are Prin-related.” He thought that Yik Yak should not be censored, and that it should be left as a platform for college students. Although he conceded that there is an issue with some of the content, he thought that it is mostly being used as a platform for humor, stating that “people are trying to be funny in any way, shape or form. I think there are only a few people who are posting really dirty things, swearing, maybe, by many – but the really raunchy stuff is coming from a few.”
Senior Susie Bonwich, the student body president, lined up in the neutral camp about Yik Yak, saying she enjoyed the positive, spiritual posts but also expressed dissatisfaction with the inappropriate posts. “If it’s in your head, it’s in your head,” she said. “Not everyone has to know what you’re thinking.”
Since the app is relatively new, people like administrators are still formulating their opinions about it. In an effort to determine how some in the administration see Yik Yak, the Pilot interviewed Student Life programming manager Josh Sprague. Sprague does not, of course, represent the official views of the administration.
He said that he has the app on his phone, but doesn’t post. Sprague added, “It’s not like the app is evil. Like anything else, it depends on how you use it. I would hope that we are appealing to divine Law, the Golden Rule and the Spirit of Matthew.”
Sprague conceded that the usage has mushroomed since the app appeared at new student orientation. Because of the anonymity aspect, it is impossible to get an exact number of people who are yakking. He had no prediction for the future of the app on campus, but offered the following advice to students to help maintain the positive intent of the app: “If you’re not willing to say something to somebody’s face, then maybe you shouldn’t say it.”
Some staff members are simply reading yaks to see what is being posted, but others are “yakking” along with students. Rackham Court resident counselor Geoff Hinchman has the app and votes different yaks up or down depending on his response. Hinchman conceded that some students may not be used to social media and may take some comments “too seriously or take them to heart too much and it can be damaging that way.” On the flip side, he stated, “I think to dog an entire community because a few people post exactly what they were thinking right then and there and to then assume that’s indicative of the entire community, all the time, it’s just not really thinking that clearly. It’s a dangerous thing to do.”
As with any new social media app, there are people who are steadfast in their disapproval in the concept. Over 20 people interviewed for this article expressed their disapproval of the app. However, most of them were not willing to speak on the record, because they feared ridicule.
However, senior Briggs DeLoach said he deleted the app after a week due to what he sees as the crass, crude and negative comments being posted. He has since redownloaded the app with the intention of “killing them with kindness” and posting positive, uplifting comments in a genuine effort to show that a positive message can have an uplifting effect and create a more mature and embracing atmosphere on campus.
“Yik Yak has the potential for good,” DeLoach said. “It could be a very uplifting platform. I personally would like to see it move in that direction.”