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The Milton Measure

Yik Yak: Terrific and Terrifying Anonymity

by Jonathan Chan on Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Founded in 2013 by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, Yik Yak aims to connect people through anonymous, location based posts, combining the technologies of Twitter and GPS. Posters can choose to share information with the closest 100, 250, or 500 Yik Yak users within a 1.5 mile radius. Every individual who uses Yik Yak has a “Yakarma” number, a numerical score that evaluates the success of an individual’s post. Each post on Yik Yak also receives ratings in the form of “upvotes” and “downvotes.” Unpopular posts that receive more than 5 downvotes are automatically and permanently deleted.

Although the majority of posts are relatively harmless and do not target any specific individuals or groups, the app creates problems beyond the already problematic cyber-bullying: according to CNN, a San Clementine High School in Southern California was placed on lockdown as a result of a bomb threat posted to the Yak. In response to this and other similar incidents, the founders of the app have developed a “geo-fencing” technology to avoid and limit cases of emotional and physical threats. This feature establishes a geographic perimeter around primary and secondary school campuses, preventing individuals within these locations from posting or viewing the app.

Recently, the app has received much attention within the Milton Community. During the September 22 all-school assembly, José Ruiz cautioned the upper school away from Yik Yak, saying, “You cannot get caught up and allow the excitement to take away and sacrifice your values, or to sacrifice who you are as individuals. Anonymous posts like the ones found on Yik Yak can be divisive, harmful to others, and have a potential to destroy, or at the very least, damage communities.” Mr. Ruiz offered the acronym “THINK” (True, Harmful, Important, Necessary, Kind) to help students re-evaluate their intentions and consider the consequences of their actions before posting.

Academic Dean Jackie Bonenfant shares similar concerns regarding the app, saying “the thing about anonymity is that it can go south really fast.” When asked whether she thought Yik Yak should be allowed at Milton, she responds, “It is almost impossible to say to kids ‘you can’t do this.’ So as a teacher, I would rather work with kids and help them see what it means to be responsible in their behavior.” Furthermore, Mrs. Bonenfant recognizes some benefits the app might bring to the community, and she “absolutely [thinks] the app could be used in positive ways…there are ways to be supportive of people, to recognize wonderful achievements, goals – and own it.”

Mr. Heard disagrees that the app can be used for good. Referring to the app’s creators, he says,“I think it’s kind of silly that they think Yik Yak is an adult bulletin board.” He further cautions students that “your lives online are creating a digital footprint that is going to follow you for the rest of your life, so I don’t believe [Yik Yak] should be part of our community because we are based on integrity.” When asked why Mr. Ruiz made his speech during assembly, Mr. Heard said, “I know there has been a lot of misuse by [supposed] Milton students.”

Milton’s students share a more relaxed view of the dangers Yik Yak poses. Although she has not personally used Yik Yak, Head Monitor Caroline Wall (I) says the app has been a “positive [space] to make snarky comments and witty one-liners.” However, Caroline has also heard that “other people have been using it to call out people by name and to say very negative things that aren’t really that amusing.” She describes Yik Yak as a “double-edged sword.” According to Caroline, members of the SGA “have not really tackled the issue yet” because they “don’t want really want to infringe on a student’s ability to have free speech and [they] don’t want to limit any social media because that’s not [their] job.”

New junior Zac Polukoff says, “I love [Yik Yak]. I think it’s a new, interesting way to be social.” He adds, “You can always get a good laugh and you can always be yourself and post whatever you want.” However, Zac acknowledges that the anonymity allows individuals to “cower behind [one’s] posts.” Overall, although there are “instances of bullying,” Zac thinks that “it’s all light humor and fun – nobody gets hurt.”

Mateen Tabatabaei (III) also previously used the app, saying he “thought it was funny,” and “didn’t think the offensive stuff was meant to be hurtful. I understand from administrations point of view, [however, that] there was really no was to justify [its use].” Mateen belives the line between inappropriate and appropriate post is “hazy – that’s what the problem was.”

As Mr. Ruiz said during the assembly, “We have a social responsibility to communicate kindly, to stand up for others, and to build a positive presence, be it physical or online, rooted in respect,” arguing that the anonymous nature of Yik Yak is simply incapable of facilitating this environment.

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Posted by Jonathan Chan on Oct 3 2014. Filed under More News, News, Recent News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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