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I don’t know about you, but I say that the online disinhibition effect, where users feel less restrained online, is the source of cyberbullying.
At the mention of the word “cyberbully,” I know a more than a few of you might want to stop reading, rejecting the notion as if it relates only to high-schoolers or the 2011 ABC Family movie of the same name starring Emily Osment of “Hannah Montana” fame. I can’t be the only one who watched that movie, can I?
Cyberbullying affects more than a handful of college students in ways you might overlook. But maybe it is a part of your everyday life.
To make my point, I’m going to look at Yik Yak, the location-based social media outlet that lets users post anonymously about whatever their hearts desire. Users can comment on others’ posts or express their favor or disfavor by “upvoting” or “downvoting” a post.
Do I think that Yik Yak is an open space for cyberbullying? In a word: Yes.
If we look to anonymous social media sites such as Yik Yak to confess secrets and desires, what does that say for us a society? In a way, it could be a comforting environment, where we feel that someone somewhere is encouraging and supporting us one upvote at a time. In fact, the purpose of Yik Yak is to be able to connect communities in a seemingly more “intimate” way. I can’t deny that Yaks boasting Buckeye spirit make me proud to be an Ohio State student.
But when we stop filtering ourselves on sites like Yik Yak where there is no obvious repercussion except for being “downvoted” enough times to get your post deleted, we become desensitized to our raw, human emotion. Thus enters the idea of online disinhibition, an idea popularized by psychologist John Suler.
This basically means that platforms like Yik Yak, or any cyberspace media outlet for that matter, allow us to abandon the social norms inherent in face-to-face communication. While I often vie for rejecting social norms, I think this becomes a problem when we lose our ability to be compassionate and respect another person, in turn encouraging cyberbullying to take place.
I am not here to tell you to shut down your Yik Yak, or encourage a ban against the app. With new social media sites and apps popping up every day, I don’t think that protesting these types of outlets will go very far. I don’t think it is the fault of Yik Yak’s creators just like I don’t think it’s Wikipedia’s fault that you got a D on your research paper for using false information.
It’s us — we are the ones at fault. I might sound like a cliché public-service announcement, but it’s true. We choose the words that make their way from our brains to our fingertips, and we choose whether to press send. Sometimes, it’s really just better to not.
Just because you don’t know who’s typing on that keyboard doesn’t mean that person is invisible. Just because you can type behind that keyboard and remain virtually “anonymous” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a filter.
If you feel like the only way you can confess your secrets is to an open platform like Yik Yak, where you might not get the support you’re hoping for, I suggest taking a look into some of the amazing resources we have on campus for support, like Career and Consultation Services at Younkin Success Center, or Diversity and Inclusion programming at the Multicultural Center.
I’m going to trade my standard Beyoncé quote for that of the wise and inspirational Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”