Yik Yak: Why it Exists
By: Shaan Fye, Editor-in-Chief
Some younger Yik Yak users have compared the site to a “a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.” Others have called it an anonymous Twitter. This application, developed by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington in November 2013, has quickly proliferated throughout American high schools and colleges, becoming the 20th most downloaded social app in the U.S..
The way Yik Yak works is simple: it uses an individual’s GPS location to place him/her in a 1.5 mile radius circle where the messages are tailored to the location. It combines this GPS function with Twitter, allowing users to post in these 3 mile wide bubbles. On top of that, these posts are anonymous, allowing anyone to say anything to a local audience, without fear of being held accountable.
This app is the product of a burning desire by increasingly anti-social people to vent their anger, hatred, and hurtfulness without fear of retribution. Yik Yak fundamentally enhances society’s most guilty pleasure, gossip. It combines anonymity, locality, and the internet to build a gossiping machine gun. Yik Yak gives people the power to talk behind their classmates’ backs without fear of retribution by the targeted.
In the decade lead up to this app, numerous online bullying examples have led to suicides, self-harm, and depression. With most of those cases, however, the attacker leaves an online footprint, at least maintaining some level of accountability behind LCD screens. Yik Yak tears that final barrier down, truly making users feel completely secure saying anything.
As I write this more and more teenagers are being arrested for feeling that way, only to realize too late that bomb and gun threats fail to stay private, even in the Yik Yak world. This does not change the increasing desire by people repressing their feelings to vent on comparatively mundane topics, like one’s body weight or attractiveness.
While these yik yaks are unlikely to be worthy of unmasking the aggressors in law enforcement’s eyes, the effect on the victim still exists. Reading more and more stories every day about victims helps to illuminate the way these people feel. Because these messages can be up-voted (and down-voted), a one-sentence yik yak can easily become popular, receiving tens and hundreds of up-votes. This only exacerbates the problem for the victim, as he/she feels that the entire school has turned against him/her, even though to most, the yik yak was innocuous fun and was not taken seriously.
Anonymity barriers, exemplified in Yik Yak, have the power to destroy people’s self-worth. Teenagers, already transitioning away from the “fight-on-the-playground” “take-your-lunch” style of bullying, turn to this app and ones like it to vent hormonal anger. But by doing so, they fail to realize the amplification effect the internet has on thoughts and words. A yik yak stating : “No one would ever ask (insert name here) to prom, he/she is (insert insult here)” could disastrously affect the student. Knowing that almost everyone around you has the app, teachers included, and that people who may act like your friends in person may be upvoting these very same yik yaks as they walk with you serve to multiply feelings of insecurity and depression.
In truth, the aggressors probably would never feel comfortable saying those words in public to the person to avoid any open feelings of ill-will for lack of courage, but this is not made known to the target. To the bullied, these anonymous messages make the world feel against them.
At a recent TEDx talk I helped to organize, Tamarah Gehlen spoke on the increasingly complex mental issues teenagers face with the advent and rapid proliferation of the internet. She discussed the uncharted territory we as a society are now entering as the multiplier-effect of the internet comes down on innocent people in the form of bullying, and how it can affect mental competence in young adults. While I wholeheartedly agree with her, many are unable to resist the selfish temptation that Yik Yak provides, failing to realize the implications of jumping into the yik yak world.
I personally witnessed the dawn of Yik Yak at my school, and while we were spared the worst of it (looking at articles of other high schools), I am sure many people’s days were ruined as a result of a yak that targeted them. While I can say that yik yaks were written about me (#stopShaanFyefromtakingovertheschool), I cannot say that I went through what some of the bullied have and will continue to have to face. I can only hope that as a generation, we can gain more of an ability to empathize with each other and use the internet for good. I don’t fault the creators at all, they were only exploiting a guilty desire. Let’s erase that desire.
Contact Shaan Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments relating to this article