A few days ago, my friend urged me to download a popular new app, Yik Yak, geared predominantly toward college students. For those of you who do not know, Yik Yak is the latest trend in social media and serves as an anonymous mobile gossip board for your local area. At first glance, I found the comments to be mostly amusing. I read many relatable and funny posts made by fellow students of Arcadia University about things such as questionable school food and unreliable campus internet. But then I noticed nasty remarks taking personal aim at various people, communities, and organizations on campus. That’s when the truth reared its ugly head. Yik Yak is not a harmless, fun way to pass time. Instead, Yik Yak is an enabler of bullying and other harmful acts because it allows people, from the shadows, to belittle others and make threats with little fear of repercussions. This app must be permanently deleted before it causes even more damage than it already has.
Created in November of 2013 by two Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers from Furman University, Yik Yak’s popularity has skyrocketed. According to Jim Thompson of the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper, Yik Yak is heavily marketed to campus life, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of students across over 250 American colleges regularly use the app. Yik Yak’s quick rise to fame has prompted several investors to pour millions of dollars into the app for mainly expansion purposes. Let’s look at some recent examples highlighting the terrible potential of Yik Yak to better understand why expansion is a truly horrifying thought.
In a recent article about Yik Yak, Nick Valencia of CNN describes several unfortunate incidents spawning from the app, including a Southern California high school placed on lockdown after a bomb threat was posted and a Chicago high school student relentlessly criticized after being raped. Taxpayer money is being wasted on the lockdown and search procedures incurred by violent threats. More importantly, students who suffer from cruel personal attacks are at risk of self-harm or hurting others in response. How can the expansion of Yik Yak be justified when considering the wreckage left behind by this troublesome app?
Defenders are quick to point out the actions of Yik Yak in response to these threats faced by high schools. Yik Yak can and will override anonymity provided by the app through tracing location data, which makes it relatively easy for the authorities to track down users who post menacing threats. Furthermore, Diana Graber of the Huffington Post noted how Yik Yak has recently changed the age-restriction of the app to 17+ and has made the app unavailable in areas close to middle schools and high schools. There are two main problems, however, with these so-called solutions. First, our tech-savvy youth will inevitably figure out a way to bypass these censorships. Second, the devastation of Yik Yak encompasses more than just high schools, a fact which the app has conveniently ignored.
A writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Alexis Stevens, outlines a scary situation that occurred on September 19, 2014 at the University of Georgia. 19 year old student Ariel Omar Arias wrote on Yik Yak, “If you want to live don’t be at the [Miller Learning Center] at 12:15.” This center, which houses a campus library and several classrooms, was evacuated and searched by police officers and a bomb squad. Thankfully, Arias’ threat proved to be empty and the culprit was quickly identified. Arias has since been suspended from the university, arrested and charged with two felony counts of terroristic acts. This type of scenario will continue to occur at a more frequent pace with each day Yik Yak exists.
The negative effects of Yik Yak expand far beyond threats of violence. Noted psychiatrist and writer for Fox News, Dr. Keith Ablow, wrote an article in May entitled, “Psychiatrist’s View: Yik Yak is the Most Dangerous App I’ve Ever Seen.” Ablow describes how bullies use “character-assassinating short messages” to destroy reputations. He remarks, “If a student writes, ‘Susie has an STD,’ there’s no way to know if the ‘yak’ is true. But hundreds of other students may see the electronic message, leaving it to the target to defend herself.”
It is incredibly easy to open up Yik Yak and, in a matter of seconds, tarnish the reputation of a person or group or frighten others with threats of violence. There are no repercussions for anonymous bullies and there is no way to make a victim forget a disrespectful comment. While it must be tempting for the creators of Yik Yak to continue earning millions and expand their app, they must consider the ethics of what expansion really means for past, present, and future victims of this mobile gossip board. Let us take a stand today against all social media bullies by deleting the app and spreading the word about its horrible impact on those we know, those we do not, and our country in general.
Featured Image Credit: The Ithacan via Flickr