Anonymity and accountability online

How Yik Yak affects our community

Growing up, most of the time when I spoke, I had to be mindful of the possible negative reactions of the people I spoke to, which could range from being uncomfortable to angry to perhaps even violent. With the way that social media has developed since smartphones became a product that most people could afford, anonymity has started becoming more and more desired. YikYak has enabled people to speak completely anonymously with no real repercussions for it.
As Mike Tyson put it, “social media made y’all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it,” and to a very large extent, that is not entirely incorrect.
YikYak embodies the essence of “speaking before thinking” as well as speaking without thinking. This sounds like a recipe for disaster in regards to how this would encourage cyberbullying, and that is exactly what it became. Initially launched in 2013, it grew in popularity, reaching over 200 million downloads. However, it was soon taken off of the App Store due to becoming a primary hub for cyberbullying. Eventually, it got so bad that YikYak was shut down entirely in 2017.
Ideally, that should have been the end of it; four years of an app that somehow got enough funding to become a real thing and became targeted towards teenagers, who of all people are probably the most prone and sensitive to bullying.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of it. As in typical capitalistic and corporate style, new developers bought rights to YikYak, and it has been re-released in 2021. Despite the new version of YikYak having better guidelines, it has stayed the same in that it is still entirely anonymous. However, there have been some minor improvements, including that if the company is subpoenaed they legally have to reveal user identity.
Regardless of these measures taken by Yik Yak, cyberbullying is still prominent and there have not really been too many changes in terms of who uses the app and how they do so. Cyberbullying is still not taken seriously enough, especially by people who are not as active on social media or different generations simply suggesting to “turn your phone off” or “delete the app.” But truly, all of us teenagers and young adults know that cyberbullying simply does not work like that. Even if a person who is being “slandered” or just genuinely bullied on YikYak deleted the app, that does not mean that it is still not going to be said, which would still lead to people talking and spreading rumors about it. All of that is very real, and deleting the app or turning your phone off does nothing to counteract the bullying.
Another poorly thought out aspect of the app is that it is based on location, meaning there is a set radius so you only see things being said in your area. In colleges that are situated in a big city, there are a lot more people who are active on the app and as a result there are far fewer Yik Yaks and comments about individuals. Even if there are comments about individuals, they can get lost in the large volume of posts because each post disappears after an hour. However, in a small college town, the chances of posts targeting individuals are much higher and more likely to be frequent. At a small college like Allegheny, where it is such a tight-knit community and word often spreads fast, something like YikYak is only going to spread rumors faster.
In my opinion, YikYak should be banned on campus. It should not be made accessible on any of the college’s wifi networks, as then the app’s usage will almost certainly drastically start to decline as cash-strapped college students are not going to be wasting their mobile data just to post on YikYak. It would probably be a good move for the school’s administration, too. Everyone on campus knows that the administration has a bad reputation, but by banning YikYak they may gain some respite in the criticism as many students would recognize the administration’s banning of the app to be a positive one, helping to curb the ever potent risk of cyberbullying.
The future of YikYak on this campus is uncertain. A serious incident triggered by something stupid happening on YikYak could very easily have it be banned. The same could be said for colleges and high schools around the U.S. To counteract this, YikYak could change its product to have the posts not be anonymous anymore. But then, would it even be considered the same?