Yik Yak: Community Creator or Cyberbullying Platform?

February 22, 2022


Since its rerelease this year, the app Yik Yak has become one of the most prominent social media apps on the market, especially on college campuses. Yik Yak is an anonymous forum that allows users within a five-mile radius to communicate with each other, making it the ideal app for clustered communities like college campuses.  

 The app originally came out in 2013 and remained popular until shutting down in 2017 due to reports of cyber-bullying and harassment. After being bought out by the company Square, the app relaunched in 2021 and has been very successful. It currently ranks #22 on the Apple App Store’s list of social networking apps.  

Marshall University has a fairly active Yik Yak community, with around 20-40 posts uploaded to the app daily. The content of these posts varies highly. Some ask about local events happening on campus. Ohers discuss classes and how people feel they did on an exam. However, a fair amount of these posts take on a darker, much more negative tone. 

“I think Yik Yak is extremely toxic to communities, specifically high school and college communities. I think it perpetuates bullying, especially since it’s anonymous,” said Maddie Smith, a student at Marshall who chose to avoid using her real name for this article out of a fear that she may be harassed on the app. “It can be really negative when users start to attack specific people or groups because people like to bandwagon on these kinds of apps.”  

Smith is not the only person worried about the effects of Yik Yak as it relates to cyberbullying. Over the weekend, a series of posts emerged in which an anonymous student made multiple inappropriate statements attempting to harass a female student. The poster used asterisks when naming the girl, which initially prevented the posts from being taken down by the Yik Yak algorithm.  

 The posts were eventually taken down after about eight hours and did not receive many upvotes due to their controversial nature. Upvotes on Yik Yak function similarly to retweets on Twitter or likes on Instagram as a metric for popularity. However, despite the posts’ low upvote count, later posts written by seemingly different people imply that a large amount of people saw the originals.  

 These types of situations and posts are exactly what led to Yik Yak’s declining user base and eventual closure in 2017. If the app doesn’t develop a stronger regulation system to prevent inappropriate posts like these from being shared, it could lead to more problems for both the platform and its users down the line.  

 “It was so frustrating to have these posts talking bad about me and to not be able to do anything about it” Garrett Shield, a freshman at Marshall who has dealt with negative posts on Yik Yak, said. “None of it was that bad, I guess, but it was really annoying to deal with.”  

 Shields also added that the posts he referred to took about half a day on average to be taken down. 

 Yik Yak currently has a list of “Community Guardrails” which are meant to clearly lay out what is and isn’t allowed on the forum. Included in the banned content is personal information, bullying and harassment and identifying specific people. While the algorithm is designed to delete posts that violate these guidelines, the amount of time it takes for some of these posts to be deleted may not be short enough to prevent real emotional and mental damage from being done. 

 For those who may be struggling with the effects of Yik Yak posts, either those made about them or their peers, the app does contain a tab with mental health resources; although, many of these are very generic and their usefulness is questionable at best. Other options may include deleting the app and/or reaching out to the counseling services offered through the university, as the professionals there can offer a much more personal approach to dealing with the trauma that cyberbullying can cause. 

 While there are certainly negative aspects to the app’s increased popularity, it isn’t without its potential upsides. For example, in a time when campus life seems more separated than ever as colleges continue to protect their students from the pandemic, Yik Yak can provide students with a feeling of community on their campus that may otherwise not exist.  

 The app also allows information to be spread rapidly among students, which can sometimes prove very useful. If an event is canceled or something important is happening on campus—such as a protest—Yik Yak is one of the most efficient methods of spreading that information throughout the student body. With new features on the app such as Nationwide Hot and the ability to peek in to see what other campuses are talking about on their Yik Yak forums, students can also develop a broader sense of camaraderie outside of just their specific campuses.  

 For both the good and the bad, it seems that for the time being Yik Yak is here to stay. It will likely continue to play an important role in campus life for as long as it remains popular with students. The most important thing that students should keep in mind as they continue to engage with the app is that, even though their posts are anonymous, they can still have consequences. Through things like IP tracking, nothing that is posted on the internet is truly anonymous, and the things students post can have serious effects on those around them. With that in mind, Yik Yak does have the capacity to serve as a useful tool for students wanting to engage with others in a unique way. 


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