To ban or not to ban? That has been the question concerning Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app, this week. After an hour-long debate in last night’s Senate meeting, the resolution to ban the app was passed in an overwhelming majority vote.
Yik Yak was released in November of 2013, but its popularity on Union’s campus has been fairly recent. Students sometimes take advantage of the anonymity factor to insult other individuals and organizations and complain about campus policies.
Luke Brake, sophomore English major, and Caleb Hall, sophomore teaching English as a second language major, proposed the ban saying “we have little to gain and much to lose” from its use.
“We care deeply about this school and its students and don’t want [violence and division] to happen here,” Brake said. “We firmly believe that anonymous gossip like Yik Yak brings out the worst in people, resulting in foolishness at best, and cruel shaming at worst.”
The two students presented screenshots of yaks from Union’s feed that were misogynistic and racially offensive. Actual threats of violence against specific students and dorm rooms were included.
“That’s not in any way productive,” Brake said. “There’s really no reason for us to tolerate this.”
Several points were brought up before questioning from senators began. On the issue of freedom of speech, Brake reminded his audience that the university is not under federal or state government.
When considering potential benefits of Yik Yak, Brake said that other outlets like Twitter and Facebook can serve as sources of humor and advice from the community. A few jokes are not worth the sexual harassment and racial tension, he said.
Hall spoke to the issue of prospective students reading the feed during Preview Days and campus tours.
“I’m sure everyone here is thankful they go to school here,” he said. “Think about the day you toured campus for the first time. If you saw this on your phone, you probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
Peyton Penuel, senior digital media studies major, was the first to speak out against the resolution.
“I am perhaps the most mocked person on Yik Yak…and I think Yik Yak is hilarious,” he said. “I study this—this will not stop. If you block this app, another app will come.”
Brake answered Penuel’s statement when he said that not everyone is strong enough to handle anonymous insults.
Bryan Carrier, dean of students, recognized each side of the argument.
“There are varying perspectives,” he said. “Some are acutely aware of the dangers associated with an anonymous forum that isn’t relegated to members of the Union community. Others are supportive of an anonymous forum for free expression.”
Unlike other anonymous social media apps, Yik Yak caters to localization—through a technology called geo-fencing, feeds only contain content from those near the user’s location. This concept of close proximity intends for more relevant posts, and as a result, it primarily appeals to college communities across America.
Geo-fencing technology aims to avoid as much cyber-bullying as possible, “fencing off” 85 percent of American middle schools and high schools to make Yik Yak inaccessible in those areas through GPS tools.
While students are responsible for what they post, Yik Yak only facilitates thoughtless action, Brake said.
“We need to look at this through the eyes of compassion,” he said. “Is this app making us more or less like Christ? We are called to help the ‘least of these,’ and shaming people as ‘sluts’ or celebrating sin and abuse is an example of us attacking the vulnerable. Frankly, it is cowardly. We ought to speak with courage, with our faces bare to one another.”
Carrier said he was encouraged that students are willing to have an open conversation about both positive and potentially harmful attributes of social media.
“My advice to students is not to say anything via social media and texting apps that you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face,” Carrier said. “Interestingly, when our communication interface is with a screen versus person to person, our level of inhibition unfortunately tends to drop drastically.”
Now that the bill has passed, administration will consider requesting for Yik Yak to establish a geo-fence around the campus, so that anyone on the Union campus will unable to access the app. This is not the first time that a school has taken action to ban the app. Since the app is location based, people connecting through both Wi-Fi and mobile data will be unable to access it from the Union area.
“It was really encouraging to see the student body respond that way,” Hall said. “This is a really good statement for the school to be making because it does contribute to a national conversation—what we do about sexual harassment and cyber-bullying.”
More About Yik Yak
The app was invented when Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington started collaborating in a class on coding iPhone apps. After graduating from Furman University in South Carolina, the two put their careers on hold to maintain the app.
“Yakarma” points are earned by contributing popular “yaks,” responding to other comments, “up-voting” yaks they like and “down-voting” yaks they dislike. The yak’s positive or negative rating is displayed next to the message. If a yak has a rating of -5, it is deleted from the feed.
Feeds can either be displayed by most recent or by top rated yaks. In addition to viewing the default local feed, users are also able to “peek” in on feeds from other campuses. However, users are unable to contribute to feeds that are out of their particular geo-fenced range.