Monday, May 21, 2018

Yik Yak: Platform for communities or for threats?

ANNELISE GILBERT ’17
FEATURES EDITOR

Yik Yak’s mission statement claims that it is “building the most authentic way for people to connect with their communities and find their herds.”

The app’s objective may seem great at first glance, but that positivity quickly dissolves once your team, fraternity, sorority, friends, or even your race are the subject of a negative post.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, at University of Missouri and Northwest Missouri State University, Yik Yak was used as a platform to make threats against African-American students.

The posts at the University of Missouri read, “I am going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see,” and “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.” Those posts don’t really sound like statements that really bring a “herd” together.

So what happens when someone makes a blatant threat on Yik Yak? In the case of the threats made at University of Missouri and Northwest Missouri State University, two students were arrested.

While Yik Yak does have the reputation of being anonymous despite the location aspect of the app, the social media platform does have guidelines for law enforcement when criminal activity is suspected or apparent on the app.

The user’s IP address at the time of installation, IP address from each post, GPS coordinates of each post, time and date of post, user-agent string associated with the device from which the message was posted, and sometimes phone number are stored to the app’s records when Yik Yak is installed and used.

In emergency situations, like kidnapping, bomb threats, school shootings, or suicide threats, law enforcement can bypass the normally required subpoena, court order, or search warrant. Yik Yak evaluates situations on a case-by-case basis.

Following the threats in Missouri, Yik Yak co-founder and COO Brooks Buffington addressed the Mizzou threats on the app’s website, regarding them as “completely unacceptable.” Even though it appears Yik Yak cooperated with law enforcement to locate the two men arrested this past week, what if it had been too late?

I believe there are many ways to think about this. On one hand, Yik Yak provided a place for the offenders to voice their plans, which in the end helped locate them and prevent any harm they could have carried out. On the other hand, Yik Yak can be a source of confidence for those who post threats or other degrading material. Those who post and those who “up” and “down” posts are hidden behind an almost absolute veil of anonymity. As a result they have less concern and shame about their views.

In addition to the ill notion of “support” those behind the racist and threatening posts received from Yik Yak, the app has a history of bullying.

The harmful messages about others on the app have gone so far that some colleges have banned the app.
In May of this year, Cosmopolitan published a piece about College of Idaho’s decision to ban the app. The college’s president, Marv Henberg, struck a note with many when he said, “If someone puts a racist epithet on a Latino’s door, or a black person’s door, there’s at least a potential evidence thread that can be investigated. Not with Yik Yak.”

Even though it is possible for Yik Yak posts to be traced to a certain extent, locating the authors of threatening and offensive posts does not settle the fear students like those of Mizzou felt.

Threats do not make up a majority of Yik Yak feed, but Yik Yak seems to be a popular platform for them because they are becoming more frequent.

It is hard to balance the freedom of speech against the safety of others, so it will be interesting to see how schools continue to handle the impact of Yik Yak on campus.

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