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Every year, it seems that a new app takes over our phones: Instagram in 2012, Snapchat in 2013, etc. This semester, another one has been added to the list: Yik Yak.
This geolocated, real-time forum where users can make anonymous posts – be they comments, jokes or insults – is one of the hottest topics in the Principia zeitgeist. “Hi, I’m a Prin student and I’m a Yak-aholic,” someone posted last Wednesday. “Pretty sure my boyfriend checks his Yik Yak more than his texts,” another said last Tuesday. “I wonder if my roommate is on Yak,” is a third.
At least 20 percent of Principia students are active users of the app, as some yaks have received close to 100 upvotes. There are guaranteed to be many more who are just voyeurs, viewing and scrolling but not necessarily posting or voting. And the overall user base is bound to increase as the semester goes on. All of this raises the following question: in the environment of Principia College, is Yik Yak productive or destructive?
There are funny yaks on a host of topics like Org attendance and Pub food. And there are others that uplift, like cheers for our sports teams and quotes from Science and Health. But there have been an alarming number of yaks that definitely do not belong in either of these categories. Some yaks feature coarse language and sexually explicit references, such as the following: “What does Prin and a whore house have in common? The people with diseases spend all their time around cox.” Others are personal attacks that specifically target individuals on this campus.
While the user could be posting them for fun, that is not a valid reason for their existence on the app. They only end up being malicious or unproductive. Think of it this way: would you shout one of your yaks to everyone in the Concourse? Simply put, anonymity is for cowards.
Many yaks are users asking for relationship advice, or simply seeking a companion. A recent one was, “Looking for boy to cry on shoulder. My long distance boyfriend and I just broke up.” If you are dealing with a real relationship issue, then you need to talk with that real person. Are you planning on having an anonymous relationship? No. This, fortunately, is the advice many users are replying to these yaks.
To make the matter even more serious, there were a number of suicide-related yaks posted last week within a few hours of each other. “What what [sic] does the blue book say about hanging myself?” “You’ll read about me in the pilot this month #goodbye.” These, fortunately, were met with messages of encouragement, but others saw another side to this: “To those of you writing the suicide yaks to be satirical – You’re hurting those who actually are dealing with something.” Another one read, in part, “stop whoring for attention.” While this was, of course, a very delicate situation, it still brings to light how misconstrued anonymity can be. It’s a literal game of life and death when it can’t be determined if someone actually needs help or is being a troll.
And late last week, there were a number of homophobic yaks targeting Lowrey House and its “runs.” Although these were also met with users asking for these yaks to stop, the homophobic posts were made in the first place, which is not right in principle.
It seems that many users are not in favor of how the app’s content has developed over time. “This feed went from mildly amusing jokes to flat out hate speech and bullying. Some people just don’t know when to stop,” one reads. “wow middle school is a rough time here at Principia College,” another says. “Everyone love everyone. Hate is not what Prin is about. If you wanna make fun of ppl anonymously please leave,” is a third.
There are many situations – bullying, alcohol, drugs, sex, depression, suicide – that should not be shared through Yik Yak. Sexual innuendo and homophobia, be it real or in jest, does not belong. And serious problems also do not belong, as they should be addressed sans anonymity.
We go to school in a unique environment, one that should be welcoming and inspiring for everyone in the community. A Principian should feel included and at home when on campus. Although the Pilot is not in the business of telling students what to do or how to think, special consideration needs to be given to everything we have here at Principia. Is all of this negative thought conducive to our productivity and growth?