Since its launch in 2013, social media app Yik Yak has managed to secure a position as one of the most popular sources of mobile information sharing today, especially within college communities.
The formula of Yik Yak is simple yet, effective: users can share posts (called “yaks”) that can be viewed and commented on by others.
Yik Yak will only show yaks within a 10-mile radius of the user’s device, ensuring that shared information will be relevant to each user. Its users are relatively anonymous in their posts.
The problem with Yik Yak is the basic concept is not tailored for people to simply throw statements of biting sarcasm into the void. Rather, like a virtual bulletin board, it was for the sharing of comedic random thoughts, perhaps in some way to foster community without explicitly giving names.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Yik Yak co-creator Brooks Buffington discussed his and fellow co-creator Tyler Droll’s original concept for the app as well as the progressive corruption of their idea.
“We were naive… Using the app the way we intended it to be used requires a certain amount of maturity and responsibility. We were idealistic about who possessed that,” said Droll.
I’d like to highlight the word “idealistic,” because it embodies the main issue with Yik Yak. In the realm of the Internet, there is no such thing as the “ideal” user. Given a forum with a certain level of anonymity, users will be more tempted to write about what upsets them, even if it defies popular opinion. There is no immediate threat of consequence.
Naturally, Yik Yak’s policy on anonymity has been met with much criticism, particularly accusations that people have been using the app to promote the ever-present issue of cyberbully culture. Scrolling through lists of yaks written by students, updated with new posts practically by the second, I found the lack of an identity to associate with one’s post resulted in many yaks with aggressive, inflammatory and even downright offensive material.
Students use Yik Yak in order to express themselves in ways that they could never accomplish in real life. Although this form of expression can be pleasurable to the original poster, Yik Yak has indeed been linked to implications of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse across college campuses nationwide.
Despite the issues presented by Yik Yak’s legion of invisible users, the app isn’t all bad. The anonymity allows for the sharing of deep or personal problems that could not be shared otherwise. Yik Yak can often become a place of genuine encouragement from fellow students, likely absolute strangers.
The creators seem to be aware of the dangers surrounding their app and its users. They have implemented numerous changes in an attempt to curb cyberbullying. The most recent update enhanced the requirements for reporting yaks with inappropriate content for deletion in order to counter trolls who would remove innocent posts.
Buffington and Droll have more work to do to fix what they have created, but it is reassuring to know
they have dedicated themselves to the task of making the environment as safe and productive as possible.
It cannot be denied the fundamentals of Yik Yak are flawed, and the majority of posters exploit those flaws as a means of self-expression. In spite of our anonymity we should be aware of what information we make public, and how this information could possibly be used against us. While we may find it convenient to blame the creators for all the app’s problems, we are the ones responsible for how the app is used on a daily basis, and how it will be used going forward.