Anonymity and Social Media

     New social media platforms seemingly crop up every few months, with some catching on quickly and generating a large user base within a short period and others never really making it past the stage of infancy. One platform which has risen to prominence over the past couple of years is Yik Yak, an anonymous region-specific platform which allows users to post random thoughts and reply to the thoughts of other users in their areas.  Accessed through a mobile application, Yik Yak has become especially popular around college campuses where students can do anything from complain about their housing situation to advise other students on what classes they should take. All of this is done anonymously and without any personal accountability.

     The platform’s insistence on not forming a connection between the content that is posted and the user that wrote it has numerous pros and cons. On one hand, Yik Yak can serve as an incredibly open place for students to ask questions or raise concerns that they would never feel comfortable asking in a public forum such as a classroom or on a more public site like Facebook. The anonymity of this platform encourages open, free thoughts that transcend any type of social circles that exist on a college campus. If I were to be sitting in the library in a couple months deciding what classes I should take for my next, final semester here at BC and a random, passing student stopped and told me I should take one professor over another, I would be hard pressed to take his opinion seriously. After all, who is he? What does he know that I don’t? Since I had never encountered him before, I would probably brush off his comments and direct my questions towards my inner circle of friends and people whose opinions and thoughts I trust and respect. Since everyone on Yik Yak is anonymous, the playing field is more level. I don’t know who is replying to my post and offering me advice and people don’t know who I am and who they are advising. Because of this, the platform serves as a great crowdsourcing opportunity for users.

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     However, like most things, there are a few downsides to the anonymity that Yik Yak provides. Just as the platform allows some users to be open about their questions and concerns, it enables other users to hide behind the shield of anonymity to bully and antagonize others in their community. Some posts on Yik Yak can consist of nothing more than something like “____ is no fun. Don’t you agree” and the replies to the post can be a plethora of fellow students chiming in about their distaste for the person in question. Just like almost every other social media platform, posts on Yik Yak can snowball very quickly. All it takes is one mean spirited comment or rumor about someone being posted for other users to pile aboard and start poking fun at someone who can’t even defend themselves. This can also have real world implications if an untrue rumor is spread on the platform and a situation arises where people are approaching a student with false, preconceived notions about them based on something posted on Yik Yak. Like with anything online, some people have malicious intentions and want nothing more than wreak havoc within a community. Yik Yak’s blessing of anonymity only makes these villains feel even more secure in their wrongdoing. Thankfully, at least here at BC, most people want nothing more than a fun social media experience, but even I have seen some instances of Yik Yak gone wrong, right here on our campus.78376040_XS     Clearly there are both positives and negatives that come with Yik Yak and each user experience can be different. I, myself, have seen some pretty funny posts on the site and even contributed a handful of posts. However, the mask of anonymity can bring out the closet racism, sexism, homophobia, and generally terrible nature that some individuals would never act upon in the real world. Despite this, Yik Yak remains a unique platform because of its ability to connect users who are geographically close without any other defining factors. What are your experiences (if any) with Yik Yak? Do you think that it offers users more benefits than risks?

9 comments

  1. In enjoyed your post about a platform I had previously only heard some pretty awful things about. I now have a clearer understanding of how it works and what Yik Yak is (supposedly) for, so thanks for that. I’ll never use it, but I can see how interacting with people you’re geographically close and connected to can offer some use, as you mentioned for polling what courses to take etc., or to just enjoy a certain “togetherness” with people you may or may not personally know.
    Nevertheless, I’m afraid that anonymity always results in less accountability and people starting to act recklessly. Maybe I just have a pessimistic view of humankind, but I think that particularly on SM it has become so easy to post content without thinking about the consequences (for ourselves as well as for others), and to cause harm along the way. In that sense, Yik Yak seems to me more of an anti-social network, but I may be entirely wrong, having never used it myself. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Although there is always going to be a risk for cyber-bullying when it comes to anonymous platforms, I feel that Yik Yak has done a solid job in taking measures to mitigate this. For example, any high school districts that find it to be problematic can request Yik Yak to build a geofence around their campus to cut off access to the app. Whenever anyone submits a picture, it automatically gets sent to the Yik Yak team for review before it can be posted. The Yik Yak team also bans the use of people’s names on the app, and they even monitor it and delete any yaks that break this rule. As if that’s not enough, they even outright ban the use of some potentially threatening words altogether to the point where you can’t even type them on the app. Taking into account all of these measures, Yik Yak is just about doing all that they can to prevent their app from turning into a Wild West. By allowing users to downvote or report yaks, they also enable the users themselves to basically self-police the app. I feel that, on the whole, the BC Yik Yak feed has generally been under control and mostly harmless. I always find some funny or entertaining yaks every time I go on, and my experience has definitely been positive. Plus, just like you mentioned, it really does provide a great platform for people to get instantaneous answers to the questions they don’t feel comfortable asking others.

  3. The beauty of Yik Yak is the open space it creates for its users. It gives anyone the opportunity to acquire those 5 seconds of fame depending on how many ups they get. You could be a comedian within 5 minutes of posting a Yak. That being said, I think the option of anonymity also provides an open forum for bullying, homophobia, racism, along with many other negative possibilities just as you mentioned earlier. We see it through Yik Yak, but we also see it on other social media platforms where you can leave comments anonymously such as Tumblr. I think you hit the nail on the head with your view of anonymity through this post — great job!

  4. Nice insights! I am ambivalent about YikYak. Yes, some of the posts are hilarious. Unfortunately, the anonymity component allows users to avoid accountability for what is posted. We discussed this briefly in class – anonymous networks are typically either beneficial or harmful – there is little room in between.

    This trend of anonymous networks clearly fits a niche in society. As we start to feel less privacy as companies exploit big data, there is a swing towards protecting and eliminating traceable messages and photos.

    Mark Cuban wanted to launch an app called Cyber Dust, which would basically be a replacement for Snapchat. Texts would disappear, allowing greater privacy and eliminating a paper trail. It’s pretty interesting, more info here: http://upstart.bizjournals.com/entrepreneurs/hot-shots/2014/05/13/mark-cuban-launched-cyber-dust-because-no-one-has.html?page=all

  5. ashleighpopera · ·

    I like how your post draws attention to themes of cyber-bullying and the risk of anonymity on social media that we have discussed several times this semester. Yik Yak is a perfect example of how misuse of the anonymity social media gives us can result in people saying things they would not say in person. Although I think most people use the app for humor, I have seen instances where people cross the line and misuse the anonymous feature. I remember two years ago BC was anti-Yik Yak due to controversy over certain posts, but like any other form of social media, it is in the hands of users to determine what the app is used for. Yik Yak can have many positive benefits, such as allowing someone who may not feel comfortable posting from a personal account to make a funny joke or reach out to peers. I definitely agree with your views on anonymity and think it is up to users to determine whether or not the app is used for good.

  6. In terms of the anonymity at stake, I think you hit the nail on the head. With such a shield comes both opportunities and potential threats. In one sense, I agree that inquiries that may have never arisen in person can surface and generate a positive discussion. Last year, I remember some posts on this campus that praised and supported Father Neenan who had passed away. This was nice to see. Unfortunately, and more often than not in my experience, with a lack of accountability comes a lack of consideration. Personally, after seeing the graphic and just downright mean things surfacing on the app, I parted ways with it. Last summer, my friend’s sister was the talk of the town on Yik Yak. Were any of the rumors true? Hard to say, but people online sure seemed to think so. This was tough to see. Did I take the easy way out by parting with this dangerous tool? Yeah, I probably did. At the time it was the best solution I had. While Yik Yak can be used for positive collaboration, it can also be used for personal harm.

  7. All around very insightful post. I think YIk Yak is a great platform and offers a feature that attracts a lot of people (anonymity). I don’t have many expectations for it because I haven’t used it a lot, but I would say that I do not like the fact that is a place for people to hide when they start rumors. With things like that, I do not really respect those who intend to put people down without taking responsibility. However, on the positive side, when people who are less secure are looking for help or an ego boost, I think the anonymous posting is a great way to get questions/concerns answered. The pros outweigh the cons in this situation because I feel like it is way more fulfilling to post a funny joke and get a lot of “upvotes”. In my opinion, rumors and posting bad things about people is extremely trivial and should be done with better, more mature judgment.

  8. Great post on Yik yak which is definitely popular here at BC. I totally agree that yik yak has both its upsides and downsides. Its a great place to post random complaints about BC and see how many other people agree with you. But if you had a serious question about what class to take next semester (to use your example) it could definitely be a good place to crowd source some information. In my experience with yik yak the posts have been overwhelming on the good side. I don’t think I have ever seen a yak at BC that was personally trashing someone. The beauty of yik yak is that mean stuff like that generally gets downvoted and removed. One bad potential use of yik yak would be to threaten someone or some group. If it was a serious threat then the police would have to find out who this nameless poster was and track them down. Luckily I have not seen any cases like that on yik yak. I really enjoy using yik yak to find out whats going on on campus. And its cool to use the peek function to see what is going on far away from you.

  9. This is a very interesting point! Its crazy how people often share their thoughts more on platforms like Yik Yak than they do on other platforms, where they can be associated with the things they are saying and thoughts can be directly traced back to them. I actually love the fact that there are both anonymous and not-anonymous social media platforms available today! That way, there is always a medium for you to get something off your chest, and although it could lead to cyber bullying or controversial topics, I think it is good to discuss those things openly and not be afraid of social repercussions. I’ve never actually used Yik Yak myself, but the cost of anonymity is that you can’t select a small group of people to specifically address your comments to, the way you can over other platforms (by directly messaging or contacting someone over Facebook, for example)!

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