Yik Yak has wheedled its way to Duke. A social media platform that has pervaded college campuses seemingly overnight, Yik Yak allows users to share anonymous posts with others within a 1.5-mile radius. Duke’s freshman class appears to have a particularly strong case of Yik Yak fever, using the platform to comment on the novelties of college life. The app is the latest reincarnation of anonymous social media—a tool that can be beneficial, if used carefully.
Anonymous platforms are no strangers to Duke. Outlets like HerCampus and CollegiateACB, for example, have long drawn criticism for their facilitation of cyberbullying and damaging false accusations. Yik Yak, originally designed in response to the popularity of anonymous Twitter and Facebook accounts about collegiate campus life, differentiates itself from its competitors with several commendable features. Users can curate the site by voting specific comments up or down, wielding the power to unilaterally remove or flag egregious language in a post. By crowdsourcing its regulation, the app places greater responsibility on the users to shape the tenor of discourse on the site. Yik Yak turns proximity into exclusivity, providing a barometer for campus and social activity.
More broadly, the recent trend of anonymous social media platforms raises deeper questions about the effects of anonymity on the way we interact with one another. Public posting without one’s name attached changes the outlook of both poster and receiver. For posters, the shroud of anonymity frees an individual to post a comment she might not have otherwise. Such freedom can lead to derogatory posts that are demeaning to Duke’s self-image, fuel cyberbullying and raise privacy concerns. But anonymity can also empower individuals hesitant to broadcast their names online to share insights. Students may feel like they are contributing to the community, generating valuable discussions and feelings of belonging.
Anonymous platforms also affect how readers perceive the community. An anonymous post is amplified by the fact that anyone could have written it—a message wishing peers a happy first day of class might reinforce belief in neighbors, while derogatory ones fuel distrust. In this way, Yik Yak shapes Duke’s image to its community and to prospective applicants. Though anything written on the site may be anonymous, the collection of posts represent the Duke community as a whole. Potential students following the thoughts, opinions and impressions of current students in real time may be skewed by a vocal minority. For better or for worse, Yik Yak will shape the public opinion about the Duke community and the Duke experience.
Anonymity can be the key to generating valuable discussion. PostSecret.com, a secret-sharing website that users submit postcards to, is the best example of anonymous sharing that offers poignant messages about each other. But anonymity cannot prevent individuals from abusing its power. It is up to users, then, to use the platform responsibly. It is too soon to see Yik Yak’s role on campus life, but as long as it is not used towards malicious ends, it seems harmless for now.