“Yik Yak” Sweeps Cortland
*This article originally appeared in a September 2014 issue of The Dragon Chronicle
Walking through campus this past week, you may have noticed fellow students scrolling through a new mint-green application on their smartphones.
Yik Yak, a social media platform available on iPhone and Android devices, functions as an “internet billboard,” of sorts, claiming to provide users with a “live feed of what people are saying around you.” Labeled by some in the internet community as “the most dangerous app in the world,” Yik Yak users are completely anonymous, as the content appearing on a user’s screen is organized solely upon geographic location as opposed to the traditional name-based systems of other platforms.
A user can post a message of up to 200 characters that other “Yackers” within a 1-10 mile radius can respond to and comment on. In addition, users can “up vote” or “down vote” another user’s posts based on humor, insightfulness, and mutual agreement on specific social conventions.
Posts tend to be relatable to the campus community as a whole. A “Yak” appearing on the Cortland feed last week told users of a “cop posted up by the stadium field,” warning them to “look out.” Other posts appearing on the site deal with popular topics around campus, such as Cortland’s new email system, dining services, and specific classes and professors.
In addition to local posts created by Cortland students for Cortland students, users can view the Yaks of other campuses such as Harvard and Stanford, as well as fictional ones such as Hogwarts from the popular Harry Potter book series.
But what is it about this app—as opposed to the hundreds of others available to college students—that makes some so wary and apprehensive? Could the anonymity of Yak provide a threat to the well-being of the entire campus community?
Despite prohibitions against bullying and a zero-tolerance policy against posting phone numbers, Yak really doesn’t do much to filter what any particular user might say. Though individual posts can be reported and repeated violations can get a user banned, the college-geared community Yak creates tends to be overtly sexual in nature and often can be hateful, judgmental, and simply inaccurate.
Yak is, quite simply, unapologetically and completely shaped by its users.
Jokes, oftentimes hurtful in nature, are spread across this “bulletin board” for the entire campus to see, and occasionally boundaries are violated. A user, protected by his or her anonymity, can post any idea, label, or comment about another person and, regardless of the statement’s accuracy, it will appear before the entire campus to see.
Cyber bullying is an issue that continues to expand in relevance as we diversify the social media platforms we use. Aside from its potentially harmful effects on the social aspects of a community, Yak also presents other, potentially serious problems: last week, a high school in Massachusetts was evacuated twice due to bomb threats made anonymously over Yak.
At its best, Yak is a way for the community to engage, connect, and vibe together. At its worst, it’s a shallow series of lies, judgments, and consent violations that paint a negative portrait of our school and the community we’ve created.
Social Media applications such as Yak can be enjoyed, but they must be enjoyed responsibly. Let’s be sure that the Cortland we embody is one we’re proud of.