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The return of Yik Yak

| Wednesday, September 15, 2021

It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Monday night in North Dining Hall and my friends are laughing at their phones. It might as well as been a random night in 2013 given the fact that my friends were using Yik Yak, an app I hadn’t heard of since it was downloaded on my iPod Touch nearly eight years ago. 

Yik Yak provides a platform for anonymous messages to be posted to a network of people within a five-mile radius of the user, and the result is a constantly updating stream  of the thoughts, worries and questions of anyone and everyone. The app only collects your phone number, making the posts virtually anonymous to even the app developers. Posts can be upvoted or downvoted: the equivalent of a “like” or “dislike,” and the most upvoted posts are posted on the “hot” page while the “new” page displays posts as they are posted. 

The anonymous feature is especially intriguing to me. When I discovered that I had upvoted one of my best friends posts without any idea it was her post, I suddenly became aware that the shield that a platform like Yik Yak provides is real and powerful. If I couldn’t recognize a post from one of my best friends, who is to say that anyone can ever be identified, especially when identification may be necessary?

This dilemma is one of the reasons that Yik Yak faced severe backlash when it was popular in 2013 and 2014. During Yik Yak’s prime time, the platform was used by some college students to threaten shootings, rape and other violent crimes. The anonymity feature left college officials desperate, going as far as to ban the app from their wireless networks.

Despite this, Yik Yak has returned after being shut down in 2017. The platforms website states that the purpose of the app is to provide “risk-free, lens-free spaces to be vulnerable, to be curious and to learn more about the people around us.” The website also makes it clear that bullying and hate speech aren’t allowed according to their Community Guardrails, and that when posts are reported, they will be reviewed immediately

Frankly, I am not super optimistic about how effective these “Community Guardrails” will be, considering I have seen several posts with unkind messages about specific people and groups of people. Rather, my prediction is that similar to the surge it experienced nearly 10 years ago, the popularity of the app is just beginning. First, the growing discontent with other social media will pull people in. Yik Yak provides a solution to the biggest criticism of popular social media platforms: the censorship and control of information sharing. The anonymity of Yik Yak ensures that when posts are taken down, it is purely because of the threatening content and not because of the position or viewpoint of the speaker. There is also a particular intrigue to anonymity. It is slightly thrilling and encourages vulnerability. Besides, without Yik Yak, the closest thing you can get to an anonymity at Notre Dame is to carve out a message on one of the wooden desks on the upper floors of the Hesburgh Library. 

Personally, I will be continuing to share some of my opinions in the Observer and my anonymous opinions on Yik Yak. Or maybe I won’t. You’ll never know. 

Claire Miller is a junior majoring in political science, with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship. She is a proud resident of Flaherty Hall and the state of Texas. She 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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