YikYak is a new social app released earlier this year that is quickly becoming popular amongst high school and college students across the United States. Its goal is to serve as “a local bulletin board for your area.” It uses geolocation on one’s smartphone to allow one to post short statements that are broadcast and searchable by other users in the immediate area. Users can also “vote up,” “vote down,” or reply to posts. All of these posts are anonymous.
As you can guess, this type of app is ripe for abuse. It has already made its way into numerous news articles (as of this posting, a google News search results in over 3000 articles) and that number is growing daily. Much like its predecessors, JuicyCampus and CollegeACB (College Anonymous Confession Board, now CollegiateACB), YikYak’s
anonymity allows students an outlet to share thoughts and statements anonymously and therefore devoid of direct repercussions. Apps and websites of this type are not new and YikYak certainly won’t be the last, but it leaves parents, educators, administrators and students with questions about how it can be addressed. One of Boston College’s student groups, FACES, a social justice education group, has attempted to start a dialogue about the app and the effects of its postings on members of the campus community. The group recently produced a video of students reading posts from YikYak. To drive home their point yet further, many of the students reading the posts represent target identities. Take a look at their video here (and be warned that some of the posts are quite offensive):
So where does this leave us? The problem with apps like YikYak is that they create a breeding ground for toxic campus climates. Racism, sexism, and all other -isms are aired publicly and have repercussions far beyond the individual. They also allow for the proliferation of norms and behaviors that are the root cause of issues such as bullying and sexual violence, amongst others. These apps aren’t merely providing a neutral “platform,” but often actively encourage this type of use. They also, however, aren’t solely to blame. In many ways they also force us to hold up a mirror to ourselves. They force us to see the unspoken thoughts and conversations that already go on behind closed doors. What is needed to address these issues is not just attacking the app itself, but a concerted effort at our colleges and universities to educate and change campus cultures and climates. Whereas higher education has made some strides in addressing the after effects of these types of issues, it has not done as well at addressing their root causes.