Yik Yak, a social media platform targeted at college students that allows them to post anonymously, is becoming increasingly popular on campuses, including Columbia.
The app was originally intended to be a comedic outlet, but instances of bullying and concerns for safety have arisen at several colleges around the country.
At the University at Albany, State University of New York, a football player was suspended from his team after he made a bomb threat to the college on Yik Yak, according to a Nov. 7 Huffington Post report. The president of Norwich University in Vermont banned the use of the app through the college’s computer system after instances of bullying were reported, according to a Sept. 24 Huffington Post report.
The app has even impacted high schools despite the intended college audience. In Ohio, a bomb threat against Washington Court House High School posted on Yik Yak spurred administrators to ban backpacks, according to a Nov. 11 Columbus Dispatch report.
Despite all of the trouble Yik Yak has caused, its inventors created a unique way for college students to connect, and they have been proactive at combating malicious and threatening posts. The issues can be expected, especially with the anonymity the app provides, but they are not severe enough to warrant colleges banning the app completely. Instead, Yik Yak should continue to provide disclaimers about usage, hold individuals accountable for what they post and ensure they are appropriately punished if they threaten or harass other users.
When individuals sign up for the app, they are not asked to verify if they are a college student. This negates the purpose of the app as a college online community. A possible solution could be Yik Yak linking to users’ Facebook to verify personal information and education level of its users.
That also does not guarantee accurate information, but it is more effective than Yik Yak’s current procedures.
Users are not prompted to read through terms and conditions upon downloading. This is a failure on Yik Yak’s part. If the app presents explicit rules upon initial download, this will increase awareness about what type of behavior is allowed. Although this should be obvious, anonymity does not provide people with security. Authorities can easily trace the origins of a threatening post, so Yik Yak should explicitly state that users could be held accountable for any threatening posts.
Yik Yak is apparently willing to work with the authorities to uncover the authors of threatening posts, as seen with the suspension of the Albany football player. Yik Yak should continue to work with the authorities.
In regards to bullying concerns, Yik Yak has been adamant in its pursuit to remove such posts. Posts that are not allowed are typically deleted within minutes of posting. With this in mind, some Yaks are no different than subtweets—a tweet about an individual without explicitly stating their name—on Twitter or ambiguously mean posts on Facebook. All social media pose the threat of becoming a platform for cyberbullying. This is a sad truth but a reality nonetheless.
Norwich University’s decision to ban the app completely on campus is an unrealistic stance against bullying. Cyberbullying is immature, and if a college-age student continues to bully another, that is more an expression of their own character than of the person they are taunting.
The controversy surrounding Yik Yak is understandable considering how it has become integrated into the social spheres at many of the nation’s colleges. Before Yik Yak becomes even more notorious, it is in the app’s best interest to create more explicit terms and conditions and provide stricter sign-up conditions for its users.