Today, much of our online identity is connected to our real life identity. There are less platforms that allow you to remain anonymous online now than there were in the past. For example, Facebook makes a point of using your full name, facial image, personal information, and more to verify that you are indeed a “real person” versus a spammer or someone having multiple accounts on it’s platform. Yik Yak offers an alternative platform for those seeking anonymity in an increasingly personalized online environment. Anonymity, privacy, and secrecy are all aspects of Yik Yak that draw users in.
About Yik Yak
Yik Yak in the simplest terms is an anonymous version of Twitter. The target audience is college-aged students as the app uses location information to approximate the nearest college to a user. All a user needs to do to have an account is provide his or her phone number. No username is required but users are given the option to include a handle in their posts, or “yaks,” if they choose. These handles, however, can be changed each time a user posts if they would like to do so. Yik Yak lays out their rules clearly on the app and is intended to be a positive environment for sharing.
Community on Yik Yak
Similar to Reddit, Yik Yak allows users to comment and upvote or downvote others comments showing approval or disapproval, respectively. One difference is that users can only comment and vote on a post that is within their local community’s page. Last summer Yik Yak added a feature called “Peek” that allows users to browse through other community’s posts, though without the ability to vote on any of them. The Peek feature also collects different posts based on certain themes. These are the latest ones, as they change almost daily:
“Think Kanye Thoughts” includes a number of posts about the 2015 Grammy Awards along with jokes poking fun at Kanye’s narcissism and his wife Kim Kardashian:
Kanye’s only regret is not being able to see himself play live.
Treat others like Kanye would treat Kanye.
Dear Kim: I love me enough for the both of us.
“My Best Valentine’s Day” includes users’ favorite memory of the holiday as well as their plans for this year or, lack thereof:
5th Grade. There was a teddy bear bigger than me in my seat when I walked in the classroom. I was Queen.
The one where I have a ton of wine, Netflix, and ice cream… Okay, that’s every Valentine’s Day.
Being single and saving my money.
“You Look Great Today” shares a collection of user’s best pick up lines:
You’re like a campfire, i want S’more 😉
If you were a potato, you’d be a baked potato because you’re hot and delicious.
If you were on Tinder, I’d swipe right.
In the local communities, such as the one for Fordham University, users often post about happenings on campus, seeking advice, and general complaints:
When people in Queens need to please stfu cus people are sleeping rn seriously have some consideration
We should call Fordham FU but say it like foo
Professors forcing students to buy a textbook they wrote is the equivalent of “check out my mixtape, fam”
After using the Peek feature to look through some of the other nearby colleges’ Yik Yak communities, it is clear that these themes are popular across the board. Some users use the app to complain about classes, others use it to seek relationship advice, some use it to post raunchy commentary about strangers that they see on campus, and many use it to post jokes about their college and professors. People on Twitter, Facebook and other more personal social media will post and discuss these sorts of topics but Yik Yak allows them to do so anonymously with little risk of rejection, commentary, and judgment.
Privacy through anonymity
A reason that Yik Yak has become so popular on college campuses is because it offers an outlet to air grievances, share feelings, and crack jokes that people may not normally do on a more personal medium such as Twitter. Over sharing, the idea of posting a constant stream of updates that others may see as very mundane and uninteresting, is often frowned upon in mainstream social media. Yik Yak provides an platform for these complaints. There is, however, the chance of having your post removed if it becomes harassment, abusive, or threatening in any way. These negative posts are determined by the Yik Yak community. With more than five downvotes, a users comment can be removed from the application.
Unlike 4chan, there is a not as high a level of privacy on Yik Yak. Yik Yak’s GPS feature is what makes the app unique and what allows it to build these communities based on college campuses. When clicking on a yak, a user can see a map of the approximate area that it came from.
Trolling is also popular on the app. Often people seeking advice will get a combination of genuine answers and trolls saying ridiculous things:
Yak: Girls what are you really looking in a guy??
Replies: some nice
Yus it’s cool to be important, but being nice is more important
For a relationship? Cuddlers.
The appeal of anonymity is the freedom of expression without judgment of the person’s appearance or status in society. Anonymity also eliminates accountability for what is said in a particular forum. These are extreme positive and negative views and Yik Yak appears to be somewhere in the middle. It is not meant to be a highly creative platform as only text-based messages are allowed. It is a more neutral to positive environment. Many users act as lurkers who simply vote on yaks rather than posting themselves. It is used to see campus news and commentary. Cyber bullying, while possible, is limited but it can cause a hazardous environment for some users.
Controversy surrounding bullying
Recently, Yik Yak has come under fire for the ease in which cyber bullying is able to occur within the app. In one case, a user felt so harassed by her Yik Yak community that she created a Change.org petition to have the app shut down if changes were not made to reduce cyber bullying. The anonymity of the app did not allow Elizabeth to identify her bullies and left her with little chance to figure out who was threatening her in this way. Elizabeth’s petition went viral and eventually she met with the app creators, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, to tell her story:
“My name is Elizabeth. I’m 18 years old, and earlier this year I tried to commit suicide. While still recovering, I started seeing messages about me on Yik Yak, anonymously telling me that I should kill myself. And I am not the only one.”
On January 26, 2015, Elizabeth claimed her petition a victory as updates were made to Yik Yak’s algorithm that allowed it to more easily sense threats and bullies. These features along with the small size of many Yik Yak communities, allows it to be a less-threatening anonymous platform unlike Reddit or 4chan. Since users are only allowed to post within their communities page it is less likely for them to engage in a threatening way. Other members of a community will shut down bullies or threats right away and after 5 downvotes, the comment will be removed. Droll and Buffington also introduced geofencing last May to prevent elementary and middle school campuses from assessing Yik Yak while at school in an effort to reduce cyber bullying and use among users below the age of 17.
Videos such as the one below and various news clips have all warned parents to monitor their children’s use of the app. Yik Yak’s recommended use of ages 17 and up and the geofencing feature have both made it less accessible for young kids. Warnings such as the one below often take an extreme approach since the app is intended and more often used by college-aged students. Nonetheless, the video outlines the issues that can occur while using Yik Yak or any anonymous media for that matter:
Overall the Yik Yak communities have very high levels of engagement. Many users will comment on posts seeking advice, upvote to affirm jokes or complaints, downvote negative comments or bullying remarks, and post yaks relevant for the community at large. Unlike Reddit or a similar platform, there lacks creativity of sharing images, links, or anything other than simple text posts, but this may be one way that the creators cut down on cyber bullying. Despite the controversies surrounding Yik Yak, it continues to thrive as an anonymous platform. It is much more restricted than Reddit or 4chan and limited in scope by GPS location. It has potential to create a very positive environment when members of the community engage together and in the few years it has been around, it has already become an insanely popular app among college students. Yik Yak is a prime example of people’s desire for anonymity in a highly personalized and public Internet.