Campus / News / January 28, 2015

Yik Yak anonymity leads to personal attacks

“Just asked my black friend if he wanted to go on a cruise with me over spring break. He told me his ancestors fell for that trick and he wasn’t doing it ever again.”

“I’m not going to stop talking about racism until I am cared for by this country as much as I care for this country. That is my patriotism.”

Anonymous, conflicting and controversial statements like these were commonplace last week as the Black Lives Matter forum and related protests unfolded. However, the faces behind these comments will remain anonymous, thanks to the social media application Yik Yak. This leaves members of the Knox College community to wonder whether or not Yik Yak is an appropriate outlet for political and/or racial opinions.

As a prominent voice in the college’s recent Black Lives Matter movement, junior ChanTareya Paredes has become the target of negative Yaks from anonymous people she refers to as “cyber thugs.” Some Yakkers directly insulted Paredes, telling her to leave campus and making derogatory comments toward her.

“It can get really personal on Yik Yak,” she said.

Paredes reports that she was also the target of impersonators, where Yakkers who were claiming to be her would engage in conversations.

“I don’t have a Yik Yak,” Paredes said. “I try to make myself as accessible as possible … I would prefer that they say these things to me in person.”

For those who haven’t Yakked, once installed on your smartphone, the application displays a feed of anonymous, time-sensitive comments from other users within a 1.5 mile radius. In this way, Knox College has its own bubble of anonymous chatter. In addition, users have the ability to vote in either approval or disapproval of each comment, with a certain number of disapproving votes resulting in the comment being erased.

Professor of Psychology Frank McAndrew attributed negative Yik Yak comments to the anonymity of the application.

“You’re not held accountable personally for things you say,” McAndrew said. He explained that Yik Yak strips conversation all of the normal constraints we typically encounter during conversations.

McAndrew noted that the application is “a double edge sword,” as it also has the potential for what he calls “good gossip.” Rather, without social constraints, commenters can freely share information that serves the interest of the Knox campus.

One anonymous Yaker supported this notion by saying that the social media tool is needed in order to “check this campus’ bulls**t.”

Rumors began to circulate this week that the college was considering banning Yik Yak, following the lead of Augustana College, who recently added the application to its network’s firewall in response to racially charged comments.

In response to the rumor, Vice President of Knox College’s IT Services Steve Hall said, “We don’t want to control student’s messages.”

Hall explained that even if the interest existed, banning the application completely would be nearly impossible, as most students access Yik Yak from their phone’s cellular network.

Tags:  black lives matter ChanTareya Paredes diversity Frank McAndrew Information technology psychology racism smartphone Steve Hall Technology Yik Yak

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