Yik Yak representative defends positive intentions of misused social media app

By Steven Viera and Abigail Quint

A series of articles published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, including “What You Need to Know About Yik Yak, an App Causing Trouble on Campuses” and “A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak,” have addressed issues on college and university campuses across the nation associated with Yik Yak, which also has a significant following at F&M. Yik Yak, a social media app launched in 2013, creates a bulletin board for users within a certain geographic area where they can post anonymous messages. Users can comment on these posts, as well as vote them up or down, and users receive a “Yakarma” score based on the cumulative upvotes and downvotes earned by their posts and comments. However, the cornerstone of Yik Yak is it’s anonymity.

“This allows students to speak their mind in a public, yet private setting,” said Alexander Romano ’18, Yik Yak’s campus representative at F&M. “It creates moments where students find comfort knowing that they are not alone in some of their thoughts. ”

Romano is one of 350 Yik Yak campus representatives at over 290 schools around the nation. He described his responsibilities as building the Yik Yak brand by monitoring posts, reaching out to individuals and organizations speaking negatively about each other on the app, and hosting contests and giveaways of koozies, stickers, ping pong balls, and other merchandise. He also has some communication with Yik Yak’s national office — which is currently planning on doing a bus tour of colleges on the East Coast — about how to improve the Yik Yak culture at F&M in a constructive, community-oriented way.

“This is the purpose of the application: to connect a community in an anonymous way and bring them closer together,” Romano said.

By contrast, according to “What You Need to Know About Yik Yak,” the app often turns into a forum for students anonymously cyber-bully their peers or issue threats of violence, a sentiment echoed in “A New Faculty Challenge,” which focused on students using Yik Yak as a vehicle to undermine or berate professors or administrators behind their backs.

In fact, in response to instances of cyber-bullying at high schools and middle schools, Yik Yak has implemented a policy known as geo-fencing to prevent access to the app within a certain radius of schools, according to the article “Yik Yak Founders: ‘Bullying’ App Was Meant to Be Non-Judgemental Real-Time Bulletin Board,” published by the International Business Times.

“To be honest, I hear only negative comments about Yik Yak from students,” said Margaret Hazlett, dean of the College. “It doesn’t seem to be a very positive tool since students can post things anonymously, and I tend to hear about hurtful or insensitive anonymous posts. It seems to me that it breaks down community instead of bringing a community together. I find it very hard to hear about comments directed to particular students, faculty, or staff.  It’s very hurtful and doesn’t reflect well on our F&M community.”

According to Romano, anyone who is upset with a particular “Yak” can report it as inappropriate and downvote it; “Yaks” with five downvotes are deleted from the feed.

“Yik Yak is not a social media outlet for bullying,” he said. “We try to promote a healthy and entertaining environment for everyone.”

Hazlett suggested an alternative to the discourse on the app, mentioning the Diplomatic Congress’ (DipCon) F&M Forums Series as an outlet to discuss issues on campus.

“In my opinion, a forum that brings people together to voice concerns or frustrations or invites collaboration and problem solving or celebration is a healthier and far better means to communicate than anonymous electronic posting boards,” she said. “In the age of Yik Yak, it is great that the student government is providing an alternative that fosters healthy community engagement and discourse.”

According to Romano, Yik Yak is available for download on the iOS App Store and on Google Play, and students can like FandM Yik Yak on Facebook for more information.

Junior Steven Viera is the Managing Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

Senior Abigail Quint is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is aquint@fandm.edu.

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