Yik Yak offers positive comedy community for students despite controversyThe Badger Herald
Yik Yak, a social media app that has to come back online after a four-year hiatus, is different from its competition.
The app is anonymous, which means there are no followers, profiles or a way to see who you communicate with –only up-Yaks, down-Yaks and individual creativity.
According to an NPR article, the app was first published in 2013, but received complaints of threats of violence and hate speech that occurred under its anonymous design.
The app was finally to close in 2017 for a mix of hate speech concerns and a sharp drop in engagement. It returned to the App Store last month after new owners acquired the company and instituted tougher ban tactics for problem users.
On a college campus like the University of Wisconsin, it’s no surprise that Yik Yak’s resurgence has made waves among students, especially when the Badger Barstool Instagram Account (@badgerbarstool) posted a screenshot of “Yaks” related to the inside campus jokes on the app on August 25.
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This new iteration of Yik Yak is a safer place for students to interact and creates a comedic online community on such a large campus. But, it also brings back concerns about the crass and racist comments that people feel comfortable making on condition of anonymity.
The app can be incredibly fun and adds a sense of campus culture and unity. Before the semester started, the app was inundated with students using Yaks to discuss returning to the real classroom for the first time since the start of the pandemic. There were also a lot of Yaks discussing how embarrassing it was to see freshmen wearing their free Letters & Science shirts on campus.
On the first day of the game against Penn State, the students joked about Graham Mertz’s inability to pass a pass. With such a large student body, Yik Yak made it clear to my roommates and myself that there are many common university experiences within the student body, and that many people here have a similar sense of humor.
While anonymity can be fun at times and encourage people to post more, it can obviously have serious drawbacks. Although anonymous, it is much easier to spread hate messages against certain people and cultural or racial groups. When people do not have to face the personal consequences of their actions, it makes the decision to spread hatred easier.
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It was a great controversial at UW when the app first launched in 2015. UWPD had to monitor the app for students discussing criminal activity and used it for details in larger investigations. Cyberbullying was also rampant.
Now, the app includes a series of defense mechanisms that prevent real threats or hate speech from going viral. A content blocker on the app prohibits certain words like racial slurs, violent threats, or mentions of a person’s first and last name.
When any of these words are used or the app recognizes a statement as somehow violating what Yik Yak calls its “community guardrails,” the Yak is deleted before it is ‘reaches someone else’s eyes.
Community guardrails – which list what type of speech will be removed or even which Yaks will be reported to authorities and investigated – are available for everyone to see online. Additionally, there are plenty of ways for other app users to report a certain Yak due to bullying or harassment.
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Once a Yak is flagged, it is quickly removed. Users can also prevent serious harassment or bullying of the app by turning down Yaks they find offensive to certain groups on campus. Yik Yak removes all Yaks that are slaughtered enough times.
Ultimately, while there are issues with the anonymity aspect of Yik Yak and people are being rude, the app has developed its algorithm and content blocker to grab some verbias and remove them. Offending yaks.
Yik Yak should stay online for now. After a conflicted pandemic year, students need a regulated sense of community that can complement their return to normal life.
Emilie Otten ([email protected]) is a second year student specializing in international relations and journalism.