The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Editorial: We were right about Yik Yak.

DTH Photo Illustration. Yik Yak, an anonymous discourse app based on proximity, is now being used to share inappropriate media content.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Yik Yak, an anonymous discourse app based on proximity, is now being used to share inappropriate media content.

Remember when we said that Yik Yak was bad news? Yeah, we were right.

Yik Yak’s recent addition of direct messages to their platform maintains its problematic nature – and shows that we haven't learned much from history.

While the mask of anonymity already gave way to waves of unwarranted and unsolicited comments on the popular college app, this new feature allows users to both maintain that anonymity and specifically target other users.

What does this mean for users?

Well, Yik Yak was first shut down in 2017 due to rampant racism and cyberbullying on the platforms, forcing the app to instate “Community Guardrails” upon its return to the app store in 2021. Guidelines would be too stern.

A sternness that might be warranted, given the extent of the app's problematic history. In April, University of Wisconsin-Madison computer science student David Teather found that Yik Yak sent out precise GPS coordinates alongside users’ anonymous posts. 

Additionally, students at the University of Georgia and the University of Utah have faced consequences for making bomb threats and other terroristic claims on college campuses. UNC police actually made an arrest after a student posted on Yik Yak threatening to bomb the Pit in 2014.

With all the problems surrounding the platform's history, they have chosen to introduce direct messages. If not stronger than before, our position still stands.

How could anonymity make way for safe, free speech? The answer is that it simply can’t.

There are no informal measures of accountability in place when users can say anything without their name attached. Yik Yak doesn't help – few formal measures of accountability exist, either. Yik Yak may remove posts through moderation, but in a way the app also relies on the community to ‘downvote’ a post they see that violates the terms of service. 

This system places responsibility on the user, a rather lazy tactic for a service that has already been taken down because that same ‘community’ harbored hate speech, cyberbullying and other erroneous activities.  

It was clear that Yik Yak’s initial goal of community discussion fostered cyberbullying, and now with its direct messaging feature, that same cyberbullying can be targeted, consistent and far more harmful to students on campus.

This change also accelerates an already existent problem with Yik Yak: unsolicited sexual content.

Even before this feature rolled out, one could scroll through local posts to find a couple raunchy requests. Users may remember a post sent out earlier this semester, linking to a form which was intended to promote and organize a student orgy. And that was before direct messages were introduced. 

Direct messaging makes organizing meetups like this far easier. While all social apps come with inherent risks, the last place to look for intimacy is Yik Yak, which carries far more risks than deemed necessary. Anonymity is dangerous for activities like this. 

We are in no way condemning or demonizing sexual encounters between consenting college students. That being said, there are methods that are far more effective – not to mention safer – than from behind the veil of anonymity granted by Yik Yak. The platform was never intended to be a dating app, and definitely not for coordinating hook-ups or sharing pornography.

Anonymous direct messaging is not a gateway to unsafe encounters. It has the potential to put vulnerable individuals in uncomfortable situations, all without accountability for users that initiate these encounters. The grounds are fertile for the exploitation of young people who use the app. Remember Kik?

Yik Yak made its return after a nearly five-year-long hiatus in hopes to distance itself from the issues of the past. As long as Yik Yak remains an app priding itself on anonymity, these problems will never disappear. The addition of a direct-messaging system between anonymous users, an outright dangerous addition, makes this app far more problematic. 

Yik Yak sought change, only to go one step forward, two steps back.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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