To Yak or not to Yak? That is the question
A new form of anonymity has arrived at the University of San Diego. It comes in the form of an app that goes by the name of Yik Yak.
Essentially an “anonymous Twitter,” Yik Yak allows users to create posts up to 200 characters long to be viewed, upvoted and downvoted by any and all users within a 10-mile radius.
Based on its frequent use on campus, the app is, simply put, addicting. It provides a space with no rules or boundaries, where the author has no ownership and ostensibly zero consequences. This setup has a huge potential for danger, and users should be cautious when checking their Yik Yak news feeds should harmful material emerge.
If extremely offensive or isolating posts are displayed, readers become just as much a part of the problem as the writers themselves. However, the solution is not to ban or hinder its use on a campuswide scale, but to instead exercise self-control and careful thought when using Yik Yak.
The potential danger is simple and not uncommon. Arrests have been made over Yik Yak death threats in Massachusetts, schools are on high alert in Florida due to shooting-related posts on Yik Yak and students at Colgate University are protesting against a wave of racist comments that have appeared on their feeds.
With the “liberation” of anonymity, users are deceived into believing that their posts carry less weight than before. Should we be surprised? Until Yik Yak emerged onto the social networking scene nearly every widely used platform was centered around the “profile” that attached your words to your identity, truth or fiction.
Now we are dealing with a new form of online interaction that does not involve any networking in the first place. Instead, the invisible user is placed on a platform and is admitted to say whatever he or she wishes. Sound dangerous? It should.
Keep in mind that posting anonymously only protects the author; to the reader, and possible victim of a post, the words and meaning are no less harmful. An offensive post on Yik Yak is no less detrimental than a post on Facebook or Twitter, if not more so, because the post is given no context or background: it is only known that the post exists.
This type of communication doesn’t fit in with the USD standards and goals. As university students we should aim beyond anonymous interaction to share honest or humorous sentiments.
A part of the University of San Diego’s mission statement is to “create a diverse and inclusive community.” Unfortunately, Yik Yak has the potential to disrupt our communal appreciation of diverse backgrounds, which creates a very exclusive and isolating community.
The solution is not to “ban” Yik Yak, or to discourage use altogether. Exercising individual self-control and discipline is a much better alternative. Offensive online material is practically inevitable in all forms of social media, but it is especially present on Yik Yak.
A speaker is only heard when there are people willing to listen. If you repeatedly don’t like what you read, or you sense it may be offensive to others, you should take a long break from Yik Yak.
Fewer viewers means that posts will be read less, decreasing the writer’s incentive to write and the student body’s incentive to gossip. If you are already helplessly addicted past the point of no return, then the least you can do is avoid upvoting and replying to inappropriate material.
Be careful and cautious, Toreros. Yik Yak can be a source of entertainment, convenience and connection, but as with every social networking medium, it has two faces.
Remember that your anonymity does not water down your words. Just as humorous comments are funny whether anonymously posted or not, racist, insulting or harmful comments are still racist, insulting and harmful.
If Yaks of poor taste become more common on your feed, remember that by continuing to read them, you have become a major part of the problem.