Friday, October 31, 2014

The Yak Attack

The Yak Attack

As the old saying goes, nothing brings people within a 1.5 mile radius of each other together quite like a social media app named after a shaggy, horned ox.

The first time that I, personally, heard of Yik Yak was near the end of August when an ambulance came barrelling past my dorm room window and parked a little further down the street. Curious as to what was going on, I asked one of my friends if they knew anything, to which she announced, "Let me go check Yik Yak." Once the initial confusion cleared, and I realized she wasn't hacking up a lung, she gave me a small summary of the app. And thus, the concept was introduced.

After being founded only a year ago - in October of 2013 - Yik Yak has grown to be one of the most infectiously popular social media apps available to students in college or even high school. Similar to Twitter, Yik Yak allows its users to post short thoughts and either vote 'up' or vote 'down' other posts. The major catch? It's completely anonymous - which, naturally, draws in a decent amount of criticism.

It isn't difficult to stumble across criticism of any of the rapidly burgeoning forms of social media these days, not merely Yik Yak. In May, a psychiatrist writing for Fox News stated that social media in general is "an inherently antisocial medium" and often "contributes to narcissism, depression, and impaired interpersonal relationships." Furthermore, Public Relations Specialist Karen Frazier has outlined other negative impacts, such as reduced privacy, isolation, and the spread of misinformation. On top of that, it's often argued that social media diminishes the capacity for intricate thought, as people have to shove their ideas through filters and character counts.

On the flip side, it seems that there's praise to counteract each bout of criticism, or a pro for roughly every con. Networks such as Facebook allow us to reach out to relatives and friends who would otherwise be difficult - or impossible - to contact. Tumblr, Pinterest, and other sites in the same vein can promote creativity and personal expression. Youtube comments are a fantastic source for entertainment.

However, some argue that in regards to Yik Yak, the cons outweigh the pros. The glaring fact that each post is anonymous seems to truly tip the scale - which is a characteristic of the app that increases the potential for cyber-bullying - but its drawbacks aren't limited merely to its anonymity. Here are four of the many issues users may have with the application:
  1. Posts never go away. Well, theoretically, if a Yak gets voted "down" five times, or floats around for an extended period of time, eventually it will disappear from users' feeds. But, as is true for other social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, archives still exist, meaning that posts - some of which can be derogatory, incriminating, or simply contain false information - never truly disappear. The internet does, after all, have a disgustingly good memory.
  2. Personal privacy can be threatened. Students of a college in New Jersey posted a sex tape of a fellow student this past September without the consent of the subject. Although their identities were able to be retrieved by authorities, the victim's personal privacy was still violated. Unfortunately, this was just one instance of many, in which anonymous users took to posting incriminating pictures or videos of their classmates without consent. When anonymity is available, the privacy of those around them can easily disapparate. 
  3. What about ethos? Because the identity of the person behind each post is withheld, Yik Yak users are unable to determine the person's credibility. For example: Say a post surfaces and announces that there will be a snow day tomorrow. Would it make a difference if a faculty member or a freshman on Abel 10 had posted it?
  4. Character counts. 90% of the things worth saying can't be said in 200 characters or less.
Ultimately, it seems that this recent addition to the social networking world may not be of the highest quality. While anonymity does prompt more freedom of humor and expression in general, and character limits prevent rants, as I see it, Yik Yak presents more issues than it does innovation.
So, while there may be nothing that brings people within a 1.5 mile radius together in the same way that Yik Yak does, there also doesn't appear to be anything as problematic.

But that's enough yak about that.

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