Banning ‘Yik Yak’ does not address systemic issues

By Editorial Board

In response to recent protests against racial injustice at the University of Missouri, two college students from other schools in Missouri posted threatening messages on “Yik Yak.” The students were each arrested for making terrorist threats.

The app, aimed at college students, allows users to post short, anonymous messages that can be viewed by others nearby. Some “Yik Yak” users have abused the app by using it to cyberbully and threaten others.

A coalition of 72 women’s and civil rights groups claims colleges are failing to protect students from instances of harassment facilitated by the app. On Oct. 20, the coalition sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education calling for the government to impose federal guidelines to ban “Yik Yak” from college campuses. However, the coalition’s objective to ban the app does not remedy the larger issues at hand.

Internet users, and young people in particular, have used the cloak of virtual anonymity to threaten and intimidate long before “Yik Yak.” The same instances of cyberbullying and harassment have occurred through Tumblr’s anonymous ask feature and online forums like 4chan and reddit. “Yik Yak” was not the first app to provide a virtual and anonymous bulletin board for students—the website FormSpring functions similarly to “Yik Yak.” Facebook pages for Columbia students accept anonymous submissions of crushes and secrets and have also resulted in malicious posts. Just as “Yik Yak” was not the first, it will not be the last, so shutting it down will only lead to new and similar media abuses.

The issue is not the anonymity granted by “Yik Yak”—it is the misogyny, racism, homophobia and hatred some users post. Banning “Yik Yak” would not change the mentalities of ignorant young adults or suddenly make them more open-minded and accepting. 

While many parents and educators criticize the app for encouraging cyberbullying, they do not acknowledge the sense of community it creates when used correctly. Most users take to the app to vent about problems commonly experienced by students, such as grievances about certain elevators on campus or unreasonable prices at local restaurants. 

The community aspect can also naturally protect users from instances of harassment and cyberbullying at times—users can flag offensive posts as inappropriate. The app has a built-in filter to ensure users cannot publish slurs or derogatory speech.

To further combat cyberbullying and harassment, the app should enforce a more expedited moderating process for posts to prevent personal attacks. By banning the app at middle and high schools, its creators have proven they are interested in fostering a safe environment for users.

Racism, sexism and hate speech will persist whether the app is banned or not, and in the event a ban does ensue, hateful users will simply take their habits to the next trending anonymous app.  Rather than urging the federal government to ban the app, the coalition and its members should work with colleges and universities to encourage students to promote safe and inclusive environments.