If people love to do two things, it’s talking about others or about themselves. And what better way to do those things than on an anonymous, location-based app?
But when the app is Yik Yak and allows students to post anonymously on anything and everything, it becomes a platform for cyberbullying and spreading rumors. This includes serious accusations of harm without a name to trace them back to.
Yik Yak was originally created in 2013 as a way for college students to connect with each other on campus. Similar to an anonymous Twitter, users are able to post 255 character “Yaks” that are posted to a discussion thread that is visible to everyone in a five mile radius. The app was shut down in 2017 in response to a decrease in popularity that occurred once the questionable content on the app grew tiring. In August 2021, Yik Yak was bought by an unnamed investor and its relaunch was announced.
Once again, Yik Yak is all the rage, and colleges are suffering the consequences. A student at Western Kentucky University was charged for “terroristic threatening” after posting a Yak about a bomb on campus in September 2022. A week later, a student at the University of Utah was arrested for saying that she would set off a nuclear reactor if the school’s football team lost.
Muhlenberg College has built a reputation as a caring college, known for an image of smiling students holding open every red door. Even so, its students were among those across the country that redownloaded Yik Yak.
Yaks about the failures of the administration, what was being served in the dining hall, which theater productions were worth seeing and anonymous confessions of love (and hatred) were being posted every day. Quickly the content on Yik Yak shifted tones, from mundane comments about everyday occurrences to an open forum to discuss others and make accusations of sexual assault.
This trend was not taken lightly by the administration. On May 22, 2022, the dean of students and Title IX office sent out an email encouraging students to delete Yik Yak or at the very least report Yaks that might inflict harm on others.
This was not enough action to stop the use of Yik Yak. While there has been a decrease in students posting allegations, there are still dozens of Yaks posted every day at Muhlenberg.
“I’m afraid that YikYak won’t die down. I think when people want to find a way to do something, they find a way to do it,” says Marie Tohill ‘25, who does not have Yik Yak downloaded.
“Yik Yak to me is like the poison of our society. I don’t believe in being able to anonymously post about others like that,” Tohill added “At Muhlenberg College the way that Yik Yak has been used is to tear others down, and I for one am for building others up.”
“Yik Yak to me is like the poison of our society. I don’t believe in being able to anonymously post about others like that.”Marie Tohill ’25
Chris Rubingh ‘24 has similar feelings about Yik Yak. In fact, he jokes that he has “outlawed” Yik Yak in his Village apartment, meaning that no one in the apartment is allowed to talk about the app or the content on it.
“I find it to be unproductive. I hear a lot of times people say ‘Oh, I just downloaded it, I don’t post on it.’ But if you downloaded it, you’re already part of the problem,” says Rubingh. “If you download it you might as well be posting on it and saying nasty things. If you have the app on your phone, you are as responsible as anyone with the app posting or downvoting. If I don’t respect anyone who would post an inquiry on Yik Yak, then why would I care what they say about me? So, if anyone sends me anything I say, ‘No, I don’t wanna see it.’”
Despite all that’s wrong with Yik Yak, there are some elements that are useful, which influences the impact it has on campus culture. Allie Willhouse, ‘23 shares, “Yik Yak simultaneously unites and divides students. If the administration does something that makes students feel unhappy, it is a place where we can look to each other for support. On the other hand, if hateful comments are made towards an individual or a marginalized identity, it can further divide the relationships students have with one another on this campus.”
Now, instead of sending out emails discouraging students from using Yik Yak, offices on campus are using its anonymity and unfiltered nature to their advantage. Willhouse has an on-campus job as the Wood Dining Commons intern. “In my internship, I monitor comments made by students and report them to my supervisor,” she says. “At first, I was shocked that this was a part of my job. However, it is clear that Yik Yak has become a forum for students to provide anonymous, unfiltered feedback to the administration.”
Karmen Brown began working as the director of prevention education in August 2022. Stepping into this role amidst the Yik Yak issue meant that she had to familiarize herself with the app quite quickly.
“I am on it primarily as a method to make sure that I am keeping up to date with things that might impact my job specifically. I’ll scroll through it every now and again just to see what’s generally being talked about, particularly when there are big things going on on campus or if something specific has happened,” says Brown. “One of the big things that I look for on it is specifically people calling out other individuals’ names in terms of that they harmed someone. It also informs me as to what I might create programs on. Do I wish that it was the way I was finding things out? No. But, it is helpful sometimes to be able to guide my work.”
“One of the big things that I look for on it is specifically people calling out other individuals’ names in terms of that they harmed someone. It also informs me as to what I might create programs on. Do I wish that it was the way I was finding things out? No. But, it is helpful sometimes to be able to guide my work.”Karmen Brown
There is no way to know whether or not Yik Yak is here to stay, or if it is a fad that will die out just as it did in 2013. The College continues to closely monitor harmful, defamatory or untruthful posts about students. The administration is walking the fine line between working with Yik Yak, while also treating it as the serious threat it has shown potential to be.