Editor’s Note: Some of the screenshots in this article exhibit vulgar material. These opinions do not reflect the views of ORANGE magazine, but have been shared as a reflection of the app and the users’ content.
A new controversial and addicting social media app has rapidly emerged across high schools and college campuses. Yik Yak, released in November, already has hundreds of thousands of users. Simply put, the app offers a completely anonymous forum where users can post whatever is on their minds. Using GPS location services, Yik Yak provides a live feed of what the people around users are posting. Essentially, the app functions like Twitter, but with a twist: People can say anything they want without tacking their handle to the post.
By Lauren Beccue
Launched by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, Yik Yak was intended to provide a platform where college students could post about upcoming campus events, voice criticisms and complaints and share news. After initially being introduced at southeastern college campuses, the app quickly gained popularity all over the country, including middle schools and high schools. The reason for Yik Yak’s widespread appeal seems to lie in the simplicity and ease of posting without any form of sign-up required. The anonymous posts are simply shared to the nearest 500 users within a five-mile radius, where they can then be “upvoted” or “downvoted.” Yik Yak’s marketing strategy seems to recognize the draw of obscurity. The app’s tagline reads: “No profile, no password, it’s all anonymous.”
Although the identity protection exempts a user from liability, this anonymity has consequences. Under the “Rules and Info” tab on Yik Yak, the No. 1 regulation reads: “You do not bully or specifically target other yakkers.” Unsurprisingly, this rule has largely gone ignored. Instances of bullying and violent threats have led to police investigations and multiple school lockdowns. The app makers even changed the age requirement to 17 and older and started placing “geo-fences” to disable use on or near middle and high school campuses. Yik Yak is only growing in popularity among college students, who were deemed “mature enough” to use it properly.
While it was purportedly designed to act as a “virtual bulletin board” for college campuses, the application has become a forum filled for gossip, bullying, slut-shaming and disputes between members of the Greek system for college-aged users.
University of Texas at Austin students have quickly jumped on the Yik Yak bandwagon, as well. Some students have experience cyber-bullying, and in some circumstances, first and last names have been mentioned in the offensive posts regardless of the clearly-stated rules. “I’ve definitely seen ones where girls are just flat-out being called sluts and whores. Sometimes their names end up getting put on there, too.” UT freshman Lilly Folkerts says.
Many of these “yaks” also target certain sororities and fraternities. Between calling one sorority “fat” or a fraternity “gay,” Greek-bashing is one of the most common topics in the anonymous forum. Jacqueline Crosby, a freshman at UT and member of the Kappa Delta sorority, says her chapter president encouraged them not to engage in the anonymous chatter. “We were told it was best just not to download or use Yik Yak, since it promotes bullying,” Crosby says. “It’s not really a good influence, and it is degrading to members of our chapter as well as other students.”
Similar apps are gaining popularity, too. Secret, Confide, Whisper and Gaggle all offer the alluring promise of anonymity. Some students do not see any real problem with this new trend. “It’s kind of addicting, just because people say what they’re really thinking, but I don’t think it’s bad. Most of the posts are just funny. It’s a joke. I think by the time you’re in college, you should know how to deal with that kind of stuff,” UT sophomore Julia Farrell says.
Despite all of the controversy, the app’s makers claim that Yik Yak can be used for good. On their website, they explain why they believe the app’s anonymity is actually a beautiful thing: “Your popularity, race, gender, sexuality and looks don’t mean anything on Yik Yak … You can be the quietest person on campus and the most popular poster on Yik Yak. The only thing you are judged on is the content that you have created, nothing else.”