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The case for Yik Yak

| Friday, September 24, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Last year, I was a loyal follower of Notre Dame-related Instagram meme and/or pop culture accounts: @coronavirusnd, @ndchicks and @ndbarstool, to name a few. Given I was away from campus on a gap year, I didn’t “get” many of the jokes, or at least, I didn’t have the same appreciation and understanding as I would if I had been on campus, in tune with the quotidian qualms, the topics du jour. I personally had never encountered a HERE™ sign, but I somewhat understood the ensuing hilarity after they “went missing.”

I also didn’t necessarily agree with the nature of all of the content. In the case of @ndchicks, one notable post was on July 26: “Buzzed,” a game whose instructions included “Drink if you’ve gone to class hungover” and “Drink if you’ve snuck in through a first floor window past parietals.”

To put it into a few words, I would not have had a drink in response to either prompt.

Despite these personal differences between some of the content on these accounts and myself, I continued to follow said accounts and interact with their posts. I wanted to stay in the loop, to keep my finger on the pulse of the student body. Encountering these social commentaries in my feed made me feel connected to Notre Dame even while I was almost 2,000 miles away.

Flash forward to this semester back on campus. I’ve found myself interacting with a new social medium enjoyed by many a Notre Dame student: Yik Yak. The reemerging platform has a bit of a dark past, as it’s been associated with cyberbullying and threats of on-campus crime in years past. Already, Notre Dame has seen a microcosm of contention with some derogatory comments posted about members of our tri-campus community following the Shamrock Series ticket lottery.

My take? This is a petri dish of tensions that have already been festering in the hearts and minds of some in our community. Only now do we get to take a look inside.

Yik Yak’s “anonymous” posting feature allows users to submit content while only giving the app a phone number for verification. This feature, while equipped with the potential to embolden “haters” also carries a more positive, or at least informative, opportunity.

In this Information Age, I tend to think that more data is generally good. Well, with Yik Yak, my cup runneth over.

Is it still useful information if the posts on Yik Yak are not all factual accounts? What about satire? To this argument, I’d point you to another Instagram account I follow: @overheardla. OverheardLA posts quotes from a pool of submissions with the option of anonymity. A recent favorite post of mine was overheard on West 3rd, posted on August 25:

Q: “How do you know if he’s a wannabe actor or an actual actor?”

A: “Easy. Does he work out at LA fitness or Equinox?”

Did this take place? Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. We have no way of knowing for sure. Macroscopically, did all the anecdotes on OverheardLA happen exactly as they were quoted on the account? Highly doubtful. But that’s beside the point.

The questions we should be asking about these posts are: What insight into the community does this offer? What perspective is illustrated in this example? How does it inform us of what that environment is really like?

Yik Yak, much like OverheardLA or the Notre Dame meme accounts, or even the Course Instructor Feedback forms students submit toward the end of each semester, provide what is essentially a much needed “vibe check.” It helps us keep a finger on the pulse of our community members’ opinions. And sometimes anonymity makes the difference between sharing an opinion and keeping this (sometimes problematic) “vibe check” to oneself.

Yik Yak’s reemergence after a history of scandal means a keen eye will be watching over the app. The people at Yik Yak HQ have some treacherous legal waters to navigate. Where is the line when the First Amendment meets internet anonymity? What constitutes “yelling fire in a crowded theater” when the yelling is an upvoted message and the theater is all users within a five-mile radius?

As Yik Yak faces these new questions for their company internally, we as the Notre Dame community should ask ourselves a few of our own. We need to take a good, long look at ourselves, at the type of environment we occupy. We need to examine our attitudes, what’s inside the metaphorical petri dish that Yik Yak is putting up to a microscope.

The opinions predate Yik Yak. The tensions, the hostilities — all are part of a larger ideology that exists outside of and is bigger than the anonymous app. Yik Yak merely started the conversation. Its cloak of anonymity made people feel comfortable enough to share things that many would not have shared publicly. Let’s take a deeper dive into these opinions.

We need to have deeper conversations with our peers and friends. We need to have conversations in which the cloak of anonymity is removed and instead replaced with trust. Only through trust and conversation can we confront the issues that have come to light from Yik Yak’s reemergence. And it’s ultimately good that we have this data and that we can use it to create positive change in our community.

Alexa Schlaerth is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame pursuing degrees in Chinese and philosophy. As an Angeleno, Alexa enjoys shopping at Erewhon Market, drinking kombucha and complaining about traffic because it’s “like, totally lame.” Alexa can be reached at [email protected] over email.

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

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