Yik Yak app provides outlet for anonymous cyber bullying

Julia Cherner

Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, has gone viral since its release in November 2013. Although it was originally marketed for use on college campuses, it has recently become widely used by high schoolers, including students from Redwood.

The app has been dubbed by some as an “anonymous Twitter” because of the organization and style of the posts. However, the posts are tailored to one’s specific location and users cannot choose who they follow.

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Anyone can vote a post, called a ‘yak,’ up or down, and the votes average out to give the post a score. If the post reaches a score of negative five, it is automatically deleted. Similarly, if a post receives enough upvotes relative to other posts from the area, it will be featured on the ‘Hot’ section of that location.

The app developers set up boundaries called geofences around middle and high school campuses to restrict access to the Yik Yak feed.

If a user tries to access the app within a geo-fenced location, the screen reads, “It looks like you are using this at a high school or middle school, which is not allowed. Sending and reading messages is disabled.”

Norwich University in Vermont, as well as a few other colleges across the United States, have banned the use of Yik Yak on their campuses on grounds that the app promotes bullying and is unsafe for student usage.

While the app does not allow users to log on at a high school campus, students at Redwood have found ways to get around this problem or view nearby posts from home.

Sophomore Jasmine Ammons has been targeted on Yik Yak, but said she has not let it affect her. After getting a new phone a few weeks ago, she has not re-downloaded the app.

“I’m not really the type of person to take all of that seriously,” Ammons said. “I faced what was happening, and all you can really do is just make a joke out it, even though it’s not actually funny.”

Ammons added that, while the bullying didn’t affect her that much, she believes others may not share the same attitude.

“I think for someone else, it could really hurt them and they could take it really seriously, and they might not understand that it’s just some insecure person posting,” Ammons said. “Someone could think that it’s real and be really humiliated.”

Anonymous sophomore “Sophia” has also been targeted on the app and said that the posts about her have affected her personal life.

“I think people have taken it too far by posting about specific people and being really rude and judgemental. There’s too much bullying going on,” Sophia said. “There was one [yak] that really hurt me and a lot of people said to me, ‘I can’t look at you the same.’”

Sophia added that the anonymity of the app can allow users to post things they otherwise would not share.

“Because it’s anonymous, no one has any boundaries when they use the app,” Sophia said. “You can basically post anything and no one will know that it’s you. I think that’s dangerous because your secrets can be exposed super easily and it makes it hard to trust a lot of people.”

Sophia said that she believes the bullying has decreased within the past few weeks.

“People just need to realize that they cannot specifically talk about others and bully others directly on that site, and I think they are learning that,” Sophia said. “The use of my name and some of my friends’ names has definitely gone down recently.”

Junior Ava Sholl noted that Yik Yak posts are often harmless.

“I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing,” Sholl said. “I don’t know if any social media is good, but I think it’s almost more of a creative outlet. People can say things that maybe they wouldn’t normally say and, for the most part, it’s all in good humor.”

Sholl said that she uses Yik Yak for the humor aspect and that she does not think that there is too much bullying of other users.

“I think the persona of Yik Yak is something that’s just a place to be humorous, not a place to be mean to others,” Sholl said. “I think it’s just a way for kids to express witty sayings or joke about something a teacher said or rant about school.”

Sholl added that the location aspect of the app has definitely influenced its success in Marin.

“I was in San Francisco on Yik Yak and it wasn’t very interesting,” Sholl said. “So, I think that the fact that it’s connected by a school is a really important central part of the app. I think it will continue to be a form of social media that people will use to communicate about their social and school lives.”