In case you are in the dark concerning Yik Yak, here’s the scoop. It is the latest social media application that allows any user within a 1.5 mile radius to post and read comments or “yaks” about anything and anyone. What separates Yik Yak from other social media apps is that it doesn’t allow for photos, and posters or “yakkers” remain anonymous---for the most part.
Yik Yak was launched in 2013 by Furman University graduates Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, with the purpose of helping college students get acclimated to campus and generally just share with each other what was going on and where. But they also designed the app to be an instant news feed, a virtual bulletin board where people could report on-the-ground breaking stories.
Users can “upvote” or “downvote” useful, clever, snarky or offensive texts to keep the conversation going or not. The majority of yakking is about food, movies, sex and upcoming tests. But also present on Yik Yak are a minority of users whose comments should be downvoted and are not. Their yakking is abusive and, in some cases, threatening, creating a headache for many college administrators and heartache for the students they target.
UNM junior and ASUNM Sen. Kaitlyn Loafman and a few of her friends know firsthand what it means to be targeted by Yik Yak users. “At first, my friends and I chalked it up as funny,” Loafman said. “But then the posts became offensive and malicious. They started referring to us in derogatory terms like slut, whore and other demeaning words. And then when you see people upvoting the posts it cuts you deeper.”
Loafman added that the posts got so brutal and frequent that some of her friends skipped class fearing for their safety. “We didn’t know who created the posts; who read them; or what people thought about us now,” she said.
Yik Yak cyberbullying has been linked to several teen suicides, and in Alabama two teens were arrested after they yakked about bombing and shooting threats shutting down their high school for the day. In such cases, Buffington and Droll, who are taking measures to ban the use of Yik Yak to high school and middle school students, cooperate with law enforcement to expose the users.
“People think that because they are anonymous they won’t be held accountable, so they shelve normally acceptable social filters and post sexist, racist, homophobic and threatening comments,” Loafman said. “They feel safe rearing an alter ego because they believe that their words cannot be traced back to the source. But they would be wrong.”