Saturday, December 3, 2022

‘YikYak’ creates toxic subculture

By Bryn Fawn

YikYak is a popular application causing trouble for campuses across the nation. College students are the main demographic; especially those that enjoy causing mischief without reaping the consequences. Being recently added to Android, YikYak has a larger outreach than ever. 

YikYak shares posts made within five miles of your location. YikYak has no “accounts” at all. Users can still sign up for the app and their account will be tied to their phone number. Users never create a username and users can randomize their icon, emoji and a color background, whenever they please. The power of anonymity has created an environment of bigotry on the platform, with users being able to hide behind the phone screen.

“YikYak is where communities are free to be authentic, equal, and empowered to connect with people nearby.” YikYak wrote on their website. “If you see a yak that doesn’t vibe with the Community Guardrails, please immediately downvote and report it. Yaks that reach -5 total vote points are removed from Yik Yak.”

YikYak’s terms of service disallows bullying, harassment, exploitation of minors and any other unacceptable behavior that has come to be expected of social media platforms. 

Upvotes and downvotes are similar to those on Reddit. Users can upvote, or like, a post, or downvote a post, letting it fizzle out of the general feed. However, the system of Yaks — YikYak’s term for posts, requiring five downvotes to be removed isn’t a perfect system. It can be heavily exploited with such a low threshold, and also requires the community itself to moderate their space. 

The report system is also valuable, but it delays moderation for obscene posts. Furthermore, if the main user-base agrees with the infringing post, they can upvote the post to keep it from being deleted. Echo chambers such as these are incredibly dangerous and fuel more bigotry. 

Joshua Simmons, a junior on campus, claimed he has used YikYak for two-and-a-half years, ever since its re-debut after the original take down. Simmons said he only uses YikYak about 10% of his day-to-day activities. However, Simmons alleges 45% of the Yaks he sees per day contain some form of bigotry. Simmons describes the app as “a mix of tinder and hatred” and is not a good inclusion for campus life. 

Daphne Bosarge, a sophomore on campus, estimated that 25% of her daily YikYak feed is bigotry. Bosarge also admitted to experiencing bigotry and misogyny herself. Bosarge shared how users placed the blame on her when her at-the-time partner cheated on her.

 Bosarge also shared she sees Yaks about sexual assault “every single day, at least five times a day.

University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe shared how YikYak has caused quite the trouble for UP. Due to the nature of YikYak, no data is saved on users or their posts. Due to this, police cannot subpoena information when a report is made on any alleged illegal activity on the application.

“Anytime you have an anonymous forum, it makes it difficult to verify validity.” Roscoe said.

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, or even Reddit, there is no data, so unless there is information within the Yak, UP has little to work with. Rascoe recalled an incident where a user faked a school shooting threat on YikYak, which alarmed students. However, UP was unable to do anything as there was nowhere to start their search.

The organization RAINN, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, reports that out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to police. Of those 310, only 50 lead to arrest, and of those 50 only 25 perpetrators face jail time. The current system as it stands does not help victims of sexual assault or rape, and so it is only understandable that victims use an anonymous platform such as YikYak as an outlet; as it cannot be traced back to them and their assaulter cannot retaliate. 

Rascoe implored victims to not use YikYak for legitimate reports and to instead go through the correct channels whether that is UP or Title IX. Any individual who is sexually assaulted may walk into UP to file a report. UP is open 24/7 and can assist in the process of working with Title IX and any disciplinary action. If one witnesses sexual assault, they should call 911 or UP immediately and try to get the victim to safety.

“Truth and information and the lack of truth is the detriment to our existence,” Rascoe said.

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