The Yik Yak social media app peaked in popularity in 2014 before being shut down indefinitely in 2017 due to allegations of cyberbullying and threats that overwhelmed the app. Now, the platform has apparently come back out of nowhere under new ownership in schools across the country, including the University of Georgia.
The company’s new owners bought the rights in February to redevelop the original manufacturer’s app, according to the Yik Yak website. Since then, the new platform team has been working to bring the application back to life. Some UGA professors and students wonder if this is a good thing.
Anonymity and controversy
Yik Yak allows users to write comments anonymously, respond to discussions and upward or downward voting messages from anyone within a 5 mile radius. The main goal of the app is to provide the global community with “a place to be authentic, a place to be equal, and a place to connect with people nearby,” according to its website.
Still, the app was notoriously shut down four years ago after the platform was used for threats of mass shootings, racist comments and sexual harassment. In 2014, a UGA student was arrested for posting a bomb threat to the Zell B. Miller Learning Center about Yik Yak. A year later, students posted racist messages about another deceased student on the platform.
Since the app was often used by students on campus, the issues that arose affected them deeply. The anonymity of the application made it difficult to find the authors.
The company has now dedicated itself to preventing the app from slipping back into negativity with updated guidelines for the app, according to its website. These “community safeguards” aim to prohibit bullying, hate speech, threats and the sharing of personal information. Users can no longer post photos or videos – the app is made up strictly of text messages.
Itai Himelboim, professor of media analysis at UGA, said he believed Yik Yak’s return was based on users’ desire to grow outside of their usual media bubble through the geographic filter of the application.
“’Homophilia’ means ‘love of the same’ in Greek, and we see it when you look at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” said Himelboim, who studies how social media affects political discourse. “People end up creating their own little community of like-minded individuals. It is limiting. Suddenly [with Yik Yak] you are exposed to a range of people who have a common geographic location, not preselected similarities. This can be very useful on questions of social and political controversy. “
However, concerns remain about the potential for intimidation and rude comments facilitated by the app’s key feature, anonymity.
The Yik Yak team notes the installation of features to prevent bullying on their website, including deleting posts with five negative votes and banning accounts that violate community guidelines.
Yet when an app has millions of users, there is a greater chance that accounts will fall through the cracks.
Second-year psychology student Lia O’Malley uses the app as a form of entertainment but has witnessed the negativity that can prevail on the anonymous platform.
“Some of them are funny, but I don’t care how much [Yik Yak] maybe to certain people and organizations, ”O’Malley said. “I feel like a lot of people are using it as a hate page because it is anonymous instead of the reasons the people who created the app probably want.”
Freedom of expression
Although Yik Yak is new in its relaunch, it is expected to grow significantly as more and more people engage with the anonymous social network. The company hopes that as the number increases, guidelines will continue to be followed to prevent another shutdown from occurring, according to its website.
Skyler Edgcomb, a young psychology student, echoed O’Malley’s thoughts about the damage posts can do when directed at specific people. She has seen women at UGA receive negative comments about their bodies on the app. However, the majority of Edgcomb’s experience on Yik Yak has been positive. She thinks the large number of UGA students feels smaller thanks to the app.
“In a strange way it brings a sense of community because everyone is talking about fun things that happened in Athens,” said Edgcomb. “Sometimes the comments can range from being funny to being really mean. It’s dangerous when it targets specific people, but for the most part the jokes are pretty harmless.
The publications that have attracted the most attention to app among UGA students range from classroom policies to various campus experiences.
“I hate walking past the bookstore and being harassed by 23 different people handing out flyers,” one article read. He received over 800 positive votes.
Himelboim expressed hope that Yik Yak would come back with an improved plan to overcome his negative reputation and evolve from previous mistakes, especially given the extended time taken by app developers to improve the loopholes.
“[Yik Yak] can learn from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where the problems are, what works and what doesn’t, ”Himelboim said. “They can’t hide behind any excuses right now because they have taken the day off. If it’s legal, maybe there is a way to exclude geographic areas or ways to say “Not at my school”.
While Yik Yak’s technology may not be sustainable for productive use in its current form, Himelboim said, he noted that the geographic technology used in the app could be applied to facilitate communication during natural disasters. and more serious events.
“[The technology] can be important in times of crisis, ”Himelboim said. “People around you will know the best way to know where to find water, where to find shelter, where the fire has spread or whether it is safe to drive. “
While the anonymous aspect of the app can be used to harm, the feature can also bring a new sense of light freedom to social media, Edgcomb said.
“There’s no name attached to what people post, so you don’t have to worry about being embarrassed or posting the right thing,” Edgcomb said. “On Instagram and other social media platforms, you always worry about what others will think of you. On Yik Yak, you can post whatever you want.