The news about Yik Yak is hardly news at all anymore. The application has gradually been carving out its own niche in the social media world over the last year, distinguishing itself from its counterparts by the up-front anonymity and ease of access that it offers users. No user name. No registration. No subscription fee. No strings attached. The streamlined approach offered by the application allows users to “Yak” right out of the box, with the understanding that Yakers’ words will be disassociated from them the moment that they hit cyberspace. The application also offers users the unique experience of showing only posts originating within a 1.5 mile radius, offering you the comfort that other Yakers are nearby, and that they can likely relate to your thoughts about the world around you.
The problems that come with the anonymous nature of Yik Yak are obvious, and have been articulated by plenty of student affairs professionals already. Bullying, messages of hate, threats of harm, and targeted sexual commentary have been plaguing campuses across the country on the platform, and without any practical way of identifying the responsible party. (In rare cases of serious threats, users have been identified through the swift collaboration between the application’s administrators, local authorities, and phone companies, but the complicated process of tracking down users makes it impractical to determine the source of each offensive post.)
Naturally, institutions across the country have started the conversation about launching a Yik Yak attack. The knee-jerk reaction for some schools was to pull the plug by blocking access to the application through the institution’s network, with others still discussing that option after extensive consideration. Others have discarded the solution, citing both freedom of expression rights and the ease of alternative access. Nothing stops students from turning off their wifi, and Yaking through their cellular networks.
A select few have adopted an alternative view, which targets the driver rather than vehicle. In an insightful piece written by Kenyon College President Sean Decatur, he argues that the collective malicious mentality of the users should be the focus, rather than attacking the application itself. Where the feelings of hate, malice, and superiority continue to exist, the proponents will always find a medium for expressing it. The stance is that administrators need to stop the shooter, and not the gun. (This same sentiment was also expressed in a well-written editorial for the student newspaper at Syracuse University, which can be accessed here). This approach has spurred a small campaign at Kenyon on Facebook to end the demoralizing attacks.
While President Decatur’s thoughts on the end goal are both insightful and essential, they need another vehicle. Universities and higher ed professionals have proposed several weapons, but the approach that has yet to make an appearance in the national conversation is using Yik Yak itself.
Social media is unique in the way that its users and its content have a co-dependent relationship. Content is created by users, and users are influenced and inspired by content. Further, in a forum where users can create content instantly upon viewing the contributions of others, the relationship between reader and content is more forceful than that of any other medium in history. Countless studies have demonstrated that flooding a user’s social media feed with positive content will inspire positive posts, with the same corresponding effect for negative content.
So why not use this to turn the tide? By most accounts, the negative Yaks are in the minority, but merely attract the most attention. But what if that attention is diluted by an overwhelming number of positive posts in the forum? What if the platform is flooded by universities and their students with messages of love, tolerance, school pride, and anecdotes that cause even the hardest cynic to crack a grin? Maybe we even throw in a kitten video or two for good measure?
Yik Yak was subject to abuse because it lacked an identity among users in the early days of its inception. While that lack of identity created an inviting forum for the cynics and supremacists of campuses across the country, the status quo is still subject to change. Reputation can drive use, and use can influence users. No one uses Disney World as a boxing ring because it’s the happiest place on earth. Similarly, Yik Yak can still become a safe place in cyberspace (dare I say, the safe place) where anonymity serves as an asset in the expression of positive ideas, and school pride.
In an era where a hashtag can change the world, all that is needed to institute the coup d’ Yik Yak is a large number of users acting in concert towards a common goal. And if universities have anything en masse, it’s social media users posting, tweeting, and yaking all over the web.
So students and universities, please #TakeBackYikYak.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dave Kerpen on Authenticity/ Branding on Social Media