The latest in a stream of new apps designed for young people has swept the Sarah Lawrence campus: Yik Yak. Explained by many as “sort of like Twitter, but not really,” Yik Yak was designed by developers in Atlanta specifically for college students. Yik Yak users can post anonymously within a certain geographic radius from where they are standing. Other users within that radius can either comment, “upvote” (“like), or “downvote” (dislike) Yik Yak posts or yak comments. On the home feed, users can select to see yaks based on either how recently they are posted or by the number of upvotes that they have received from the community.
Users are incentivized to post content that garners positive engagement from the community via a system of “yakarma” points: for every upvote that you give another post or upvote/comment that you receive on one of your posts, you receive a yakarma point. At big universities where hundreds of yaks fly through the airwaves an hour, yakkers vie for the highest number of yakarma points. Yakkers from around the world can “peek” into other yik yak communities to see what is trending in other places, but may only interact and post in their own respective Yik Yak communities. Yik Yak even sets up themed topic rooms where the best yaks from around the world under that topic are featured.
Yik Yak is fun because it is totally anonymous. Users can post anything from awkward moments to secret crushes to embarrassing confessions all without having to worry about their peer group judging them for it (or at least judging them personally for it). By that same token, the anonymity that app allows for sometimes shifts the conversation in a nastier direction. Users can write whatever they want, and comment whatever they want, just so long as no specific names are used (Yik Yak users are compelled to protect their own anonymity and the anonymity of others); however, leave it up to college students to figure out a way to be as unambiguous as possible while still maintaining anonymity. Some feel that the Yik Yak developers have not integrated filters that are calibrated well enough to truly screen out all of the rule-breaching content that gets posted to the public feed.
Director of Student Activities Joshua Luce likes to stay up to date on ‘what the kids are up to’ on social media, and he made a Yik Yak months before the app became even as widely used as it is today on the SLC campus. He was concerned about the app’s anonymity, and detrimental effects that could have on the virtual SLC community.
“Yik Yak can be a fun and entertaining forum, but anytime you open a venue for anonymous comments, there will always be a handful of people who take the conversation to a negative place. We've seen this with SLC Anon in the past and I am sure we will see it on Yik Yak,” Luce said. “My hope is that students will encourage their peers to communicate on more transparent social media outlets and keep conversations as civil and respectful as possible.”
Where Yik Yak compensates for potential cyber bullying that may occur is in the upvote/downvote system. Any post or comment on the forum that receives a yak score of -5 is immediately removed from the forum. In this way, users can anonymously band together to remove content that is either inappropriate or offensive in some way. Of course, if content is really bad, users also have the option of reporting it.
Most Sarah Lawrence students see Yik Yak in much the same way that Luce does. Anna Nemetz ’17 said, “I think [Yik Yak] is so silly. It can be super hostile at times but ultimately I see it as all in good fun, unless the people being hostile are actually serious. Which, in that case, it’s dumb.” Chris Kelly (’17) added, “I think [Yik Yak] is both really fun and a little frightening. It’s funny when people are just using it to joke around and find out about stuff on campus, but when people start sharing sexist and racist things then I think it starts to make people feel unsafe. A couple nights ago I saw a yak that read, ‘this app makes me feel really unsafe on campus,’ or something to that effect, and that sucks.”
Shy Adelman (’18) acknowledged that the anonymity factor makes it harder to filter out negative content, “I think it can be nice because you can write funny things that you can’t put on Facebook and then later tell your friends you wrote it,” she said, “but it also makes me get this urge to talk shit and it’s unhealthy.”
Something that perhaps not all SLC users take into account is that it is not just members of the SLC community that are in on the conversation; due to the 10 mile radius of the app’s geotag, many inhabitants of Yonkers and Bronxville and lumped in with our campuses feed. Posts can sometimes strike a dissonant chord when communities collide. Where Yik Yak becomes truly interesting is when different communities come together and find common ground anonymously, in digital space.
Be warned, Yik Yak is not for the faint of heart. It is unrated, and posts regularly contain triggers. Download at your own risk.