One Monday night, Emaan Syed, an economics major at University of Massachusetts Amherst, was dining with her friends at the Worcester dinning commons. As she finished her meal, she searched for toothpicks but they were nowhere to be found so she posted a question to Yik Yak inquiring about the usual location of toothpicks at this specific dinning hall.
Within a minute of her post, Syed received a response saying that the toothpicks were found near the soft drinks.
Yik Yak, an app that was released in 2013 has allowed thousands of college students to anonymously connect with other students who are within a one to 10 mile radius. This free social media app has opened a new door for college students to freely express their personal thoughts and emotions on a regular basis.
There are no user names, no photos, and no links involved in this app. Once the app is downloaded, it only asks for your location, and then allows you to begin yaking.
Students can write whatever they desire knowing that no other user of the app can identify them. Still, there is a catch. It is strictly timed, so no Yak stays up for more than three hours. After three hours, the Yak disappears and can’t be retrieved. It is restricted to users who are 17 and up. Yik Yak’s creators have disabled the app’s functionality when close to K-12 schools.
The sense of security this causes encourages students to constantly post unfiltered content to the app.
Two fraternity brothers from Furman University, Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll founded the app. The brothers told the New York Times in an article that was published on March 8, that they hoped to create a more democratic social media network where users didn’t need a large number of followers or friends to have their posts read widely.
Yik Yak is now labeled the best app for students to survive college by Uloop, a university news website for college students. Uloop calls it a “gem” and states that it is the best app to see what people are thinking. The location feature also comes in handy especially since users can only see what is near them.
“Yik Yak is perfect if you’re trying to kill time or procrastinate and some of the Yaks are too funny to ignore,” Syed said.
Syed said that Yik Yak has never let her down. Every question she has ever asked was answered some way or another and she is not the only student who tends to rely on Yik Yak. Claudia Baptista, a civil engineering major, resorts to Yik Yak for information as well.
“If I’m too lazy to Google something or check it on the website, I’ll just Yak it real quick and that usually works,” he said.
Baptista says she once asked about whether or not Chem 111 was required for her engineering major and students with the same major provided her with the correct answer.
Among the many features of Yik Yak, students also have the opportunity of up voting or down voting Yaks they see. They can even up vote their own Yak.
One of the most popular recent Yaks that received 63 up votes in one hour reads, “Got so drunk last night I saw a guy in a UMass sweatshirt in southwest and started telling him I go there too.”
Another popular post with 5212 up votes read, “Sorority girls travel in odd numbered packs because they cant even.“
When students were asked on the app how they would describe Yik Yak in a few words, a student anonymously replied saying, “my only friend.” Another replied saying it is the biggest waste of his or her life but that doesn’t mean he or she will stop using it.
A Yak that gets no engagement or receives up to 5 down votes will be deleted within minutes. Most of the Yaks that get deleted usually include insensitive or offensive comments usually about other races or religions.
In addition to down voting, a user can also report a post they deem annoying or offensive.
To avoid cyber bullying, the app’s founders added a new feature that prevents full names from being posted. Words like “bomb” and “guns” will alert a warning message that reads, “Pump the brakes, this yak may contain threatening language. Now it’s probably nothing and you’re probably an awesome person but just know that Yik Yak and law enforcement take threats seriously. So you tell us, is this yak cool to post?”
Other universities have faced major issues with users of Yik Yak that misused the app resulting in their arrests. Earlier this year, according to news reports, a student at Widener University in New Jersey was arrested after he posted a threatening message to Yik Yak.
“I will attempt to shoot everyone who I f—— hate and who bully me every single day!!!” Bastards; VT, Denver Columbine … Welcome to Widener mother f——,” read the post.
Police were able to track down the smartphone of the user in less than 90 minutes and arrested him in class. Through a string of recent arrests, users of Yik Yak are now realizing that messages don’t remain anonymous if they threaten violence or illegal activities.
Several schools have banned the app completely from their wifis restricting its usage on campus. However, no such problems or restrictions have been reported at UMass due to Yik Yak so far.
With the heat Yik Yak has been receiving in news accounts, many students are insisting that the app is more funny than offensive.
Neaama Bourote, communication disorders major, says that it is full of meaningless, exaggerated stories, but she doesn’t feel like it poses any harm to anyone. Bourote just started using this app in February.
“From what I see here in UMass, people just post dumb things about like the weather or tests they failed or hookups gone wrong but its never really that serious,” she said.
Bourote adds that the pre cautionary features the co founders added are making the app more friendly and less dangerous.
Previously at UMass, it has been reported in Amherst wire, a local magazine published on Sep 2014, that Yik Yak involved many cyber-bullying comments. A specific example that was reported on read, “To the girl making wraps at Hamp, just cuz you’re ugly doesn’t mean you have to be a c***.”
Baptista says she has been using Yik Yak for almost a year now and has noticed changes in the posts that are being posted.
She says she also feels like the app’s dynamics have improved since it first came out.
“I think that people have finally realized that this whole anonymous thing isn’t guaranteed anymore and it may end up biting them in the back one day so they have really simmered down a lot,” she said.
Subjects discussed on the app vary from sad to vulgar to just mere inquires about campus locations.
“I don’t know where/when the calc 127 exam is tomorrow…panicking,” read a recent Yak.
Within 3 minutes of that Yak, five comments appeared with the appropriate class information.
“What’s a good place to get tatted around here?” read another Yak.
Three responses appeared to this question within 5 minutes saying, “Lucky’s in NoHo,” “Haven is the best in the area” and “infinite tattoo in Belchertown.”
Some students tend to use it as a way of meeting people of the opposite gender.
“Anyone down to chill tonight, I’m a guy 5’6 blonde looking for a cute girl,” read another Yak.
Within minutes a Yak appeared providing this Yaker with their Snapchat username. Only original posters will receive a personal notification alerting him or her that someone has replied to their Yak.
Minor incidents in which students post rude comments about their friends, professors, or roommates have occurred but none, that the reporter reviewed, involved first and last names.
“My roommate is so damn inconsiderate. She needs to know she’s not the only one living in this room,” read a recent Yak.