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Opinion: Yik Yak’s anonymous boards a breeding ground for cyberbullying, threats

Yik Yak tour bus Credit: Courtesy of Yik Yak

Yik Yak tour bus
Credit: Courtesy of Yik Yak

Social media has changed everything about the way millennials interact with one other. The benefits of the technology are clear, and so are the detriments, most notably cyberbullying, which has been a recent topic of focus in schools throughout the country.

Recently, however, the popularity of a new app has exacerbated the issue on college campuses. Yik Yak has taken the age-old problem of bullying and created an environment that’s unprecedented — and possibly the most dangerous — on all of social media.

Yik Yak is sort of like an anonymous bulletin board that displays messages from users in a person’s area. Similarly to social media site Reddit, posts can be voted “up” or “down” on the app.

Perhaps the most dangerous feature of Yik Yak is the fact that users can share their posts anonymously, and, therefore, without consequence. It follows the lead of sites like ask.fm, which allows for anonymous posts as well.

Unless there’s a subpoena or warrant involved, Yik Yak offers a space where students’ identities are shielded from the eyes of family, employers, law enforcement and school administrators. This anonymity allows users to say virtually anything they want without having to justify or validate their posts.

The app is basically a breeding ground for rumors. Users are posting things that are either untrue, highly offensive, bigoted, mean-spirited or all of the above.

It could be argued that such comments happen elsewhere on social media, which is true. The fact is that the premise of Yik Yak — where users are not held accountable for their words — invites this bigotry and bullying. If the posts on Yik Yak weren’t offensive, users would just post them on Twitter or other social media sites. But students would never want such comments to be attached to their name, which is why they choose the anonymity that Yik Yak offers.

Emotional damage isn’t the only cause for concern Yik Yak brings to social media: the app has also been the platform for several physical threats. A high school in Massachusetts has been evacuated twice because of threats posted on Yik Yak. Schools in Illinois, Connecticut and California have also reported disruptions including shooting threats.

These threats are virtually impossible to either verify or nullify, and those who posed the threats haven’t been punished for such threats because of the anonymity they hide behind.

In an effort to control the headaches their app has caused, the founders of Yik Yak have made efforts to prohibit middle- and high-schoolers from accessing Yik Yak. Those efforts stop short, however. College campuses suffer just as much from the negative impact of Yik Yak.

According to Yik Yak data, 24 to 30 percent of undergraduate students at Ohio State are active users, which would mean there are about 10,600 to 13,260 users in the OSU area that use the app. Cam Mullen, Yik Yak’s lead community director, said those numbers make OSU one of the most active campuses in the nation.

At a point in life that many students consider to be one of self-discovery, character-shaping and civic involvement and responsibility, apps like Yik Yak do nothing but set back those goals. The student body should reflect on the impact of environments like this on college campuses and perhaps stop supporting Yik Yaks with their posts and up-votes.


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