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The Carletonian

Yik Yak: Follow the herd

Have you ever had one of those brilliant shower thoughts that you felt compelled to tell all within a two-mileradius? Maybe you’ve wished to uncover the identity of the cute man sitting across from you in Sayles? Or, maybe you wanted to instigate a riot against someone you know? Chances are, you have probably come across Yik Yak. 

Yik Yak is one of those interesting apps that has achieved a mass following on college campuses throughout the U.S. due to two overwhelming strengths: [1] its anonymity and [2] its geolocation feature. Individuals who comment on the app (Yik Yakers) are identifiable only by a rough geolocation that corresponds to one mile; otherwise, their identity is only discernible through what they say and how they say it.

There is additionally the upvote/downvote feature which allows an individual to show support or disagreement or disapproval in each other. This feature acts as almost a way for the majority view to elevate or shun a viewpoint. While Yik Yak may appear frisky, amusing and egalitarian, there lies a dangerous potential energy waiting to be released by any number of comments or decisions made on the behalf of the nameless. 

Yik Yak, like many social media companies, was founded on the premise that novel ways to communicate with one another is a lucrative project, and that white male college students know best when it comes to how we ought to order our media-scape. Yik Yak was founded by then-Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington while they were studying together and was , publicly released in November 2013. 

The app quickly became very successful, but, not even a year after the app was released, Yik Yak came under controversy following numerous middle and high school instances  of cyberbullying, in addition to racist comments on college campuses. Yik Yak also came under fire due to systematically manipulating the upvote feature by downvoting competitor social media accounts every one minute to the point where they became invisible. 

After a decline in users and laying off 60% of its workers, Yik Yak announced its end in 2017. In 2021, however, with a $6.25 million dollar investment from an unnamed investor, Yik Yak resurfaced  with new branding highlighting mental health. The new hiply-worded “resources” available on their website are nothing more than a hotline number and a list of rules about as many of which are followed in a crowded pool. Ultimately, Yik Yak is not interested in confronting the dangerous capabilities of its platform, but rather in covering their backs and “building the herd.”

With Yik Yak having been scrapped and then resurfaced, I began to wonder about the purpose of Yik Yak.  The bland, rhetorical idea for why Yik Yak exists is that it “is a catalyst for honest conversation,” according to  their Mental Health Resources Page. The company sees “Yik Yak [as a place] where communities are free to be authentic, equal, and empowered to connect with people nearby,” as stated by the introduction on the app.

Yet, when we fall down to earth, we find that Yik Yak is more like a lawless, nomadic community of hyper-conscious, self-aggrandizing folks who every now and then enact mob rule or venture on the next crusade. While the creators claim the app fosters a utopian society, the content actually produced on Yik Yak follows a few different trends: a brief, instantaneous commentary on something that happened in the real world, a way to express carnal desire, a way to vent about problems ranging from global issues to small, personal problems, a way to ask for advice and a way to call specific people out.

Now, this article is not meant to be a cultural critique of using the platform in a joking, playful or ironic manner, but rather to demonstrate that sincere discourse will never be achieved on this app and that there is a rather alarming capability of the app to rouse a mass sentiment without registering the premises. The irony isn’t lost in Yik Yak’s slogan “Find your herd.”

Ultimately, the true purpose of the app is very similar to Twitter, in that it is a competition to try and be as inventive, ironic and peculiar in a manner so that enough people will resonate with the content that you can become the spectacle.In terms of its revolutionary and participatory capacity, however, its anonymity by nature precludes “honest” discourse and creates an environment which holds the potential to misappropriate facts and harm individuals.

By limiting critical remarks to 200 characters and incentivizing people to follow the view of the herd through “Yakarma,” a tool that blatantly censors an idea if it gets enough downvotes, Yik Yak leaves us with a social media platform that is only used for the occasional clever thought and horny declaration.

These characteristics only become more accentuated by the fact that Carleton is a college with a small population spread out over a small plot of land; people are quickly identifiable and can be quickly dismissed or reduced with just the power of one anonymous comment, and any challenge to that comment can be erased if it receives only five down votes. Frankly, it is in the power of the people to dictate the flow of dialogue. Do you trust the power of your herd? 

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