The Yak is Back

Bel Carden, Special Features Editor

What is Yik Yak, and why is everyone yapping about it?

I’m sure everyone can remember the different social media platforms that have come in and out of fashion as they were growing up. There was a time where ask.fm was all anyone could talk about. Tumblr also had a moment of stardom from 2012-2016. Throughout the years, Twitter has been deemed relevant to then quickly become irrelevant again until the cycle repeats itself. Finally, a social media platform that is coming back into popularity in 2021, after almost a five year hiatus, is Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is an app that allows people to anonymously create, post, react and view discussion threads based on their location. Users can react to these threads within a five-mile radius. Because the app is based on location, it has quickly picked up popularity on college campuses. Traditionally, college campuses are located in a rather small radius, allowing for most of the community to view and interact with the same Yik Yak threads.

Yik Yak was originally introduced in 2013, however following issues with cyberbullying and extensive complaints that it facilitated discrimination and racism, it was shut down in 2017. Yik Yak was then off the internet until 2021, when it was purchased from the original creators by Square for 1 million dollars. Square is an American financial services and digital payments company based out of San Francisco. Following the purchase of Yik Yak, Square decided to make adjustments to the app before relaunching it on August 15, 2021. Square explained the reasoning behind deciding to bring back the website: “We’re bringing Yik Yak back because we believe the global community deserves a place to be authentic, a place to be equal and a place to connect with people nearby.”

Square’s decision, though, may have also been influenced by the potentially lucrative business model of Yik Yak.

Another value that Yik Yak mentions in multiple places on their website is the idea of stereotypes and how stereotypes can harm a community connection. They allow the platform to be anonymous as a way to free people from the stereotypes they are usually associated with: “Yik Yak is a radically private network connecting you with the people around you. No strings (or labels) attached… We need risk-free, lens-free spaces to be vulnerable, to be curious, and to learn more about the people around us.” Through anonymity, Yik Yak hopes to create a community where users are able to be more vulnerable and connect by sharing their thoughts anonymously.

Some particularly popular Yik Yaks from the Bucknell community were as follows:

“God I miss my mom.”

“I miss wawa.”

“Tours make me feel like an extra in someone else’s movie.”

Again, all of these are anonymously written.

Despite their efforts to combat cyberbullying, how much can an anonymous platform monitor this promise? According to their website, Yik Yak’s rules surrounding cyberbullying and hate comments are as follows: “[it is] against the community guardrails to post bullying messages or use hate speech, make threats or share anyone’s private information.” Furthermore, any post with five or more reports is automatically removed from the site. The app also does have the ability to track comments back to the user if community guidelines are violated. Given the history of the app, these rules seem rather loose, still allowing such a type of speech to be easily created. When asked their opinion on the app, one student responded, “I think it’s a funny platform but I definitely see the opportunity for cyberbullying. People are going to have to be careful with it and just make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”

“If you have this app, I think you should delete it. We need to be actively assessing whether or not what we are doing is beneficial. This app gives people a platform to hide behind their screens and spew hate,” said Aidan Perry ’22.

Such apps and the opportunity to post anonymously causes one to question the human tendency to use such anonymously to be kind or mean. Yik Yak could continue to act as a funny and entertaining app, a space for students to joke and share their college experience, or if users are not proactive in looking out for this, it could turn into a very dark space which allows for rampant bullying, a platform for cyberbullies to easily hide behind their computer or phone screens. Yes, the yak is back, but let’s make sure cyberbullying does not follow.

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