By Tran Doan, Contributing Writer ||
Fed up with all those Facebook statuses, Twitter hashtags, or food photos on Instagram? There’s an app called Yik Yak, a so-called social network which, according to its description, enables users to “check out what everyone’s saying” within a confined radius with the help of location services.
Yik Yak is a free app available on smartphones, full of funny and sensational yaks written by college friends about almost everything on campus, from how terrible the food at the dining hall is to how inferior all the rival schools are. That’s why people may see the article “Psychiatrist’s view: Yik Yak is the most dangerous app I’ve ever seen,” by Dr. Keith Ablow on Fox News, as a bit of an exaggeration — until they actually browse through Yik Yak.
No sign-up is required; indeed, everything is posted anonymously. Yik Yak users enjoy the anonymity, so they start posting things without fearing that they are responsible for what they say. While some users post harmless witty yaks about college life, others choose to spread rumors and verbally attack people. People have even gone as far as to yak threatening things, like at San Clemente High School in Southern California where a school was locked down for explosives detection after a bomb threat was posted on the app. A fifteen-year-old teenage boy at Mt. Sinai High in Long Island was arrested for yakking his plan to shoot other students. It’s hard to imagine that a person, being fully aware of how cruel and tragic a mass shooting is, can make a prank out of it.
Even without extreme terrorist threats, Yik Yak still would not be fun. Don’t be indignant if one day Yik Yak is banned in a certain area because several schools in Chicago have done so to protect their students from humiliating, vicious words. When someone spreads rumors about a student or a faculty member anonymously, there is no way to verify if the rumors are true. Similarly, when someone says someone else smells bad, there is no way to know where these mean words come from. Some of you may have read a yak on the F&M page that said something like: “The woman in the d-hall is a bitch.” There are two reactions to this post: some may agree with the yak and be glad that someone out there has the same feeling, while others may look down upon whoever writes the post. In both scenarios, either the D-hall worker or the student will be judged. In other words, either way, someone can and will get hurt. Those who spend a few seconds reading hurtful words on Yik Yak may forget about them the very next day, but it may take years for the wounds of those who were hurt to heal.
In response to the public opposition, Yik Yak creators have created “geo-fencing,” which prevents middle school and high school students from using Yik Yak when they are near the school area. Additionally, a 17-plus age restriction has been imposed on the app. However, inhibiting kids from using Yik Yak at school does not forbid them from using the app at home. Unless parents control their children’s phone application accounts, teenagers under 17 can still download whichever app they want. Whether these changes can make considerable improvement is still in question.
One of the two creators of Yik Yak said in an interview with The Huffington Post: “using the app the way we intended it to be used requires a certain amount of maturity and responsibility. We were idealistic about who possessed that.” Not only were they too idealistic, but they also had no idea how their popular production would turn people into targets for personal attacks and provide its users opportunities to be ruthless and irresponsible.
Like other social networks which have recently been met with disapproval, Yik Yak has its pitfalls. If these flaws create a cyberspace for bullying and making others suffer, the social media site should be considered off limits.