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.
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. 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?