Gatepost Editorial: Yak attack

Most students on campus are familiar with Yik Yak. We’ve all either scrolled through the anonymous posts ourselves, or have been told what people have posted by our friends who use the app.

For those of you who may not know, Yik Yak is an app which allows people to post thoughts anonymously, while viewing, commenting on and rating posts of those within a one-and-a-half-mile radius. It was an app created for college students, and has gained popularity pretty quickly, especially on our campus.

As a student newspaper which tries to represent and amplify the voice of the student body, we at The Gatepost have been interested in finding out what students on this campus talk about when they are not inhibited by having their name connected to their comments.

Because of the nature of anonymity online, there is a significant percentage of posts that are highly inappropriate. Whether they are requests to “hook up,” comments about drinking or sexist and racist remarks, there is no shortage of posts that would make your grandmother cringe.

But looking beyond the inappropriate posts, there is something unique about this app that is drawing our community’s attention: it creates an opportunity to connect with other students on campus in a way that typical social interactions would never allow.

When names, faces, genders, races and cliques are taken out of the equation, the user is left with a whole campus full of students who face the same day-to-day experiences, and can now talk to each other about them in a way that fosters a kind of distanced kinship. There’s no pressure to friend someone, to gain a certain number of likes on a post or to create an impressive profile. It’s stripped down communication that makes the interactions just that: honest and candid communication.

Of course, a lot of these posts discuss the shared experiences of witnessing cute squirrels outside classroom windows, complaining about cafeteria food or facing the daily challenges of using public residence hall bathrooms. While these aren’t the most profound discussions, they are universal experiences that bond us as a student body despite our differences.

This Thursday, in fact, two of the top four posts on Yik Yak are asking students to stay safe at parties this Halloween weekend. “Hey everyone, Halloween is fun, but make sure your [sic] safe. Look out for your friends, no one wants a fun night ruined by a tragic morning. With that said have an awesome weekend,” one of these messages said. It gained 48 “up votes.”

There are a lot of posts that ask for relationship advice, or simply say something that resonates with a lot of other students. That blind connection is meaningful, precisely because there are no profiles, friends or followers. A given user has no reason to up-vote a yak other than being able to relate to what it says – no hidden agenda necessary.

This college-aged generation seems to be constantly criticized for relying too heavily on technology, which supposedly blocks them from connecting with others in a “real” way. It can be argued, however, that apps like this create a new kind of communication that allows individuals to create communities through interactions that couldn’t exist without these technologies.

It can’t be ignored, however, that there is also a risk to this app that we at The Gatepost encourage users to take seriously. Some people post yaks asking to meet up with anyone who will come. Some invite students to rooms to buy alcohol or “hook up.”

In other cases, posts will name specific people and bully them harshly because there are no consequences. In fact, blocks have been put up around some elementary and middle schools to avoid this kind of bullying.

While this is the downside to permitting complete freedom of speech, the posts are regulated by the community. If a post gets more then five down votes, it is removed from the feed. At our school, the posts may be inappropriate but they don’t seem to get as intense, aggressive or negative as they might.

We urge students to use this app as a way of connecting with those on this campus they may otherwise never interact with – but precede with caution, both to keep themselves safe and to protect the community that can be built through this platform.

Most likely, Yik Yak is a fad that will fade over time, but the ways in which it has allowed students to interact without consequences of being candid is, ultimately, meaningful on a campus this small. It’s this kind of freedom of speech and universal communication that we should all be trying to bring into real-life situations.

 

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