The low, lowdown: Yik Yak captures campus undercurrent

Yik Yak is what any anonymous app is: untamed and anarchic. You can say what you want and no individual has monopoly over the cyberspace it creates. Instead, a community of yakkers can use the upvote/downvote feature to either catapult a yak into stardom or make it disappear entirely. As the app has become more popular, discussion over the constructive and destructive chatter it creates has grown on college campuses.

With the app’s increased use, different controversies have sprung up across the nation. At Eastern Michigan University, students yakked sexually explicit comments about their professor during a lecture, which the professor screenshotted and sent to university officials. Her efforts resulted in little because the app is anonymous and to reveal identities would require a subpoena. At Clemson University, a student said the app is used by Greek life to “trash talk” other organizations. Colleges might disable the app in certain parts of campus, but it’s still available nearly everywhere else. A more positive use of the app was at the Univeristy of Alabama, when students rallied behind a girl who shaved her head for a sorority sister who had cancer. It seems that a college’s use of Yik Yak varies on spectrum of good to bad, and Vassar is no different.

Its growing popularity among the younger generation seems to be a counter-movement to traditional social media sites like Facebook that produce, to a certain extent, pretension because of a growing awareness of the “digital footprint” left by your name on social media. Instead, Yik Yak has filled this gap and become an outlet for genuineness. Rory Chipman ’17 said, “It’s a good platform to just say what you’re really thinking when you would never really actually have a chance to say it,” said Rory Chiman ’17.

This leaves room for reality and all it’s good and bad to be discussed. Chipman said, “It can be really sad because sometimes if you want to check Yik Yak, you see all of these sad posts because it is very much a gauge of how the campus is feeling—to see that, is just kind of a bummer.” James Falino ’17 added, “It’s like that time of year when your teacher says ‘How is everyone feeling?’ and nobody answers.” Chipman said, “All the students should do is say ‘check Yik Yak.’” This is especially apparent during midterm and finals week, when the app becomes a communal confessional for commiserating.

It’s a place to tell the truth and prospective students know this when they go on it and look for the inside scoop. Yik Yak in turn has popped up as an undercurrent, a place for candor. It cuts through a foggy realm of tour guides reciting facts and old Victorian buildings enchanting newcomers. This past weekend, an anonymous prospective student yakked, “Best/worst part about vassar?” Answers ranged from the quality of food to the quality of social life. On the other side of the spectrum, a Vassar student yakked, “Feeling reminiscent about the days before Yik Yak when I was a prospie and just guessed what Vassar kids’ thoughts were.” In this sense, Yik Yak is the best place to go for an honest answer, no strings attached.

The app has also produced a new type of competition that doesn’t use the opponent as a means for fuel. Chipman said, “It’s interesting because since it’s anonymous, it’s more about your own self-gratification.” Many students use it to ascertain their level of connectedness with the college atmosphere, and hence, their social awareness. Falino added, “I’ve found myself many times being like ‘am I the only one who thinks this?’ and get a significant response on Yik Yak.” However, Yik Yak wasn’t prominent on campus until this year. Chloe Wheeler ’15, said, “The conversations have changed. I think private issues have become more public. You hear all these conversations about students you haven’t even met.”

But not everything is constructive. Falino said, “For the bad, it’s almost like a vicious cycle of people feeding off of each other’s energy. I’ve noticed, for example, on a controversial topic, some people will say, ‘Doesn’t everybody think this?’ and it will get a ton of likes and up until then you will have heard a lot of negative opinions on it.” He continued, “It takes not as loud of an opinion to be heard on Yik Yak.”

Bullying, racism, and breaches of privacy often happen on Yik Yak—like all other social media sites. The difference is that on Yik Yak, the aggressors aren’t likely to get caught because their name and contact information is anonymous. In the app’s privacy policy, it says, “We may disclose the information we collect about you in order to comply with the law, a judicial proceeding, court order, subpoena, or other legal process.” But the waters become murky when legal processes become involved, thereby weakening this statement’s power as a deterrent.

Like other colleges, Vassar is not immune to the negatives of anonymity, which can be seen in destructive yakking. Falino said, “I don’t like when people get individually called out. That’s just not cool. People post people’s initials, and yeah, it’s not the same thing, but if you know the person, you can figure it out. It’s a breach of privacy. I’ve also heard about people complaining about people posting people’s TH numbers for parties on Yik Yak and random people end up coming to those parties.”

However, anonymity does have it’s benefits when it comes to humor. The app offers a place to try out bizarre, unique, comical jokes. Especially at the place like Vassar, wit can become competitive as students try to outdo other yakkers. Chipman noted, “Some people want a lot of [upvotes]. But just don’t even worry about the [upvotes] and detach yourself from it. Some people are obsessed with finding ways to get a lot of ups. That will drive you crazy.” Falino agrees, but also said, “I feel like at Vassar, kids compete to be the funniest, so it makes sense. And especially in social media, trying to get a lot of ups is the nature of it.”

Many wonder,“what if Yik Yak became un-anonymous?” Some might get a lawyer, some might bask in pride. Chipman said, “I’d be horrified. One of my yaks was, ‘Nothing beats being able to pull out a large massive booger from your nose in private…On the day after Halloween, I yakked ‘When your mom texts you asking to see photos of your costume last night.’That was one of my top yaks.”

One of Falino’s popular yaks was “Sending cryptic VPrint messages to random 999 numbers.” Chipman turned to him and exclaimed, “That was you?”

This moment of ‘That was you?’ is for many the best part of Yik Yak.

Falino said, “I have found that the most satisfying moment is when everyone in a room is like ‘read your top yak’ and then everyone is like ‘oh my god, that was you?!’ It does have some social significance that people across campus read the same thought.”

Many college campuses, including Vassar, have begun to mold Yik Yak into what it should be: a place of comfort, discussion, humor and communication. People use it to share personal woes and receive encouragement in return. Some yaks of this sort: “That moment of panic where you feel yourself falling into a pit of depression.” “I laugh so I don’t cry.” “Mom, dad—why can’t you get along for me?” Chipman said, “I just wonder, when someone is feeling down and you reach out to them anonymously, who is that person who I reached out to and tried to help feel better? And I have no idea. It could literally be anyone.”

Falino said, “Vassar’s Yik Yak is a good social survey of what the Vassar campus is thinking. Like what we think is funny. What kind of humor we value.”To feel as if you know someone without a name when you haven’t met them seems mystical, but Yik Yak has made it possible to the extent that cyberspace can. Chipman said, “It’s kind of weird, because you’ve connected before, but you don’t realize it.”

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