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Your upvote matters

| Thursday, February 19, 2015

“I can’t believe people are upvoting this thing.”

It’s winter break and my brother is on his phone, looking at Yik Yak. Yik Yak users interact anonymously with each other by writing, commenting on and voting on posts published in their area. The app is simple, straightforward and highly entertaining in highly populated areas; in a college environment, new posts are constantly being generated by and voted on by local users.

At home, the app is far less-lively. I’m surprised that anything at all is happening on Yik Yak, so I reply to my little brother with a mildly-interested, “What?”

“I think I know this girl. Someone posted about how fat she is and it has, like 14 upvotes.”

“Oh wow. That’s terrible,” I say. My brother is still in high school. I had heard about Yik Yak being banned from school zones, but I hadn’t really experienced anything at Notre Dame that made the decision seem like an obvious one. After all, the Notre Dame Yak was fine. Nobody personally attacked other students on the Notre Dame Yik Yak.

That’s not true anymore. Maybe it never was. Since winter break, there have been direct attacks on at least one named student and two unnamed (but otherwise identified) students on the Notre Dame Yik Yak. The anonymous nature of Yik Yak has always made it a forum susceptible to such targeting. The only controls against damaging posts are negative votes and reports from users.

That being said, the Notre Dame Yik Yak has been relatively peaceful since the app was launched. Top Yaks are usually funny stories, original and unoriginal jokes, universal Notre Dame sentiments and rallying cries against schools on the football schedule. Most of the time, it’s absolutely harmless.

After all, Yik Yak is just a social media app where the most complex thoughts are limited to 200 characters. Yik Yak, you might say, doesn’t really matter.

Tell that to the individuals who have been attacked. Tell that to the groups whose negative stereotypes have been perpetuated.

Though it may seem trivial, Yik Yak acts as a powerful embodiment of Notre Dame student opinion. When a yak is backed with hundreds of upvotes, it asserts that an idea or opinion is popular regardless of whether or not users would stand by it in real life. When a post that antagonizes an individual or group rises to the top of the feed, it becomes threatening.

The truth is, Yik Yak matters. Notre Dame students use Yik Yak every day, and every day users are targeted, hurt and insulted, even if in seemingly small ways.

It’s easy to think that your anonymous, single vote on any post doesn’t have an impact on anyone. The fact is, Yik Yak is a powerful tool that affects every user on campus.

Think before you tap that arrow. Your upvote matters.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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