Be careful what you post on Yik Yak
Nabeeha Anwar | Illustration Editor
Seasons change, trends evolve and old apps come back. After the app Yik Yak’s 2017 shut down due to allegations of cyber-bullying and hate speech, the beloved free speech app has reappeared on college campuses around the nation, including Syracuse University.
With its anonymous nature and laid-back environment, it is no surprise its return has been increasingly popular among SU students. However, the same qualities that make it appealing to students also make it incredibly dangerous.
Yik Yak functions by connecting its users with other users who are in close geographic proximity. Then, users can post up to 200 characters of text, comment on other posts and interact with posts through “upvotes” or “downvotes,” all while remaining anonymous. It all sounds very liberating in terms of saying whatever comes to mind with no immediate consequences. But consequences are all too real for anonymous free speech, no matter how inculpable users might feel.
Students should be more careful about the type of information and opinions they post on the app. It is important to keep in mind that it is not just a student-based app and that many people in the area could possibly be on it. Furthermore, “funny” hateful speech could become destructive to targeted groups. Just because a comment is anonymous does not mean it can’t hurt someone.
Anonymity on the app serves as a protective barrier, bolstering anyone looking to share their darkest thoughts on the internet. It can bring about hateful ideas targeted at specific groups since there are no tangible repercussions, said Anne Osborne, a professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications.
“The concern is that Yik Yak becomes a place where people are able to spread hateful, racist, homophobic and misogynist ideas from behind the cover of anonymity. Hateful posts can create and reinforce a hateful campus culture,” Osborne said.
It does not take too long to find the toxic presence of these topics on the app. Some posts that make it on the “Hot” page usually include undertones of hateful, satirical ideas. Even if comments are sarcastic, anonymity leaves room for misinterpretation — another main concern. The spreading of fake news in the media is a prominent issue today, but with Yik Yak, the concern is that misinterpretation of information could compromise students’ safety.
Even though it is against Yik Yak’s Community Guardrails to spread personal information, there is a lack of surveillance coming from the app. Users post names, social media handles, email addresses and residential addresses on the app that anyone in a close range can see, including people unaffiliated with the university.
Many don’t understand the power Yik Yak gives its users. The idea of a public forum is to create a safe space for users to practice their freedom of speech, a value significant at a place where young people gather to grow as individuals. Students should be using this app to bring about changes they want to see on campus or even good-natured jokes everyone can relate to, not spread toxicity.
“A public sphere is meant to be a place where people can share ideas and build community, not ridicule others,” Osborne said.
Recently, SU students organized and brought awareness to a sexual assault protest on Yik Yak, demonstrating the app could genuinely become an impactful tool to hold healthy and accurate democratic conversations.
Although it is great that Yik Yak was used for good at SU, not all posts have to be so meaningful. Part of the concept of Yik Yak is to create a casual, light-hearted sphere for opinions and jokes, just as long as they are not detrimental to anyone. Students shouldn’t feel pressured to refrain from posting funny comments to alleviate their stress or connect with other students feeling the same way.
“As a community, we should be [thinking] about what kind of culture we want at Syracuse University. If we want a culture of inclusion and kindness, then it’s up to users of Yik Yak to think about what they post and to respond when they see others engaging in problematic and damaging posts,” Osborne said.
Apps like Yik Yak broaden the influence of words. As responsible users, students should remember that no matter what they say, words hold power.
It is in SU students best interest to keep the environment of Yik Yak clean, casual and relevant because another shutdown of the app would be an unfortunate loss to young people’s freedom of expression.
Karla Perez is a freshman magazine, news and digital journalism major. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at [email protected].
Published on October 10, 2021 at 8:17 pm