Learning to Love the Anonymous User

Before starting his session on apps like YikYak and Yeti Campus Stories, Jason Fish warned his audience, “Some viewers may find this disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”
Because let’s face it, for many of our institutions, the only times we hear about these apps is when something is happening on them that we’d rather not know about. Or as Jason went on to explain, that we would rather not see covered on the front page of the Washington Post. 
yikyak-handout

The platform is not the problem

That’s the problem with these apps. They get us, our students, and our institutions in trouble. But Jason argued that YikYak is just a platform. And the platform is not the problem. These apps actually solve a problem for their users. They exist because, as Jason said, “we are human, and we like community.” But in the early days of a social platform like Facebook, you could be confident that this was an online community of people like yourself: fellow college students, initially. But soon, everyone was a Facebook: your mom, your boss, your 11-year-old cousin. And — as Jason can attest — that photo you posted there nine years ago of yourself wearing a woman’s bathing suit, is not going to got away any time, well, ever.

A micro-community

Jason contends that the popularity of these apps results from students who want something that’s anonymous, something that’s online, and something that’s mine.  A micro-community, in other words. Jason provided a quick overview of YikYak, which basically allows users to post “yaks” that are then seen by anyone within a 1.5 to 5-mile range. Users can see all the other yaks people in that same area have posted, and then upvote or downvote popular yaks. The people who posts those yaks get points, or “yakarma.”

Jason went on to detail some of dark side of YikYak, including a defamation case brought by a professor at Eastern Michigan University, cases of cyberbullying, and drugs, drugs, and more drugs. But it’s not all bad, says Jason. In a move I think is just awesome, Jason explains how he will occasionally screenshot positive yaks about professors and then send those yaks to the professors. So Dr. Towns, for example, gets to see that someone on YikYak called her “The best asset we have: Dr. Towns.”

What do we do on YikYak

Finally, Jason provided some examples of what YikYak users do on YikYak and why it has become useful. For instance, YikYak is great if you want to know something RIGHT NOW. It has become faster that Twitter. If there is an incident in a building or any commotion on campus, YikYak is where students will be taking about it first. People also use it to blow off steam or complain. If the wi-fi goes down on campus, you hear about it on YikYak, not on the helpdesk. You can also use it to post something you would never post anywhere else, like testing out an opinion, or admitting that you are lonely on campus. And attempts at humor. A student’s “Hunger Games” salute before a dreaded final in a large class blew up the Purdue Yak earlier this year.

animated gif of Hunger Games salute