It’s an app that’s swept not just College of Charleston but found strongholds in a handful of campuses across the South. A recent TechCrunch article about the de facto “social network,” Yik Yak, cites its use at University of Georgia, University of Mississippi, Clemson University and Wake Forest, not to mention several high schools that have also embraced it. The app is born from simplicity: you post your “yak,” a 200-character text post, and it becomes viewable by up to 500 people closest to your location (within a five mile radius). No usernames, no email addresses, no names, even, and that’s what gives Yik Yak its infamous status. It is completely anonymous, yet simultaneously localized. Yaks can then be upvoted or downvoted, with additional functionality to report offensive yaks. All that’s required is your phone’s GPS location.
In thinking about Yik Yak, I can’t help but remember that oft-quoted line from Spiderman, Uncle Ben’s “with great power comes great responsibility.” Yik Yak has unarguably bestowed great power to the communities it has infiltrated – the power to leak information, to gossip, all without having to personally face the consequences of being the snitch or the traitor of confidentiality. This anonymity thrives in whisper-centered circles. It’s a cloak of invisibility, except instead of concealing one good-willed Harry Potter, it’s concealing thousands indiscriminately and for free. Despite this, a quick glance at College of Charleston’s Yik Yak timeline shows promise in how seriously students are handling their newfound power.
Nearly all of the yaks, as of Sunday afternoon, are vague musings, funny jokes or social statements. Few are vitriolic. One yak, “I’m tempted to hang signs up all over downtown that say ‘Dear tourists, please do not walk in the middle of the fucking sidewalk,'” faced critical rebuttal just five posts later: “To all of the people who are surprised about the annoying tourists here, you were clearly a tourist when you first arrived at CofC. Welcome to Charleston.” Another post, “Stop bullying others. Be chill and yak on,” is not preceded by any name-dropping or derisive yak, leading one to conclude that whatever it was in response to has either been deleted by the poster or reported and removed.
In this respect, Yik Yak makes me proud to be a part of the College of Charleston’s student body. There is huge potential for bullying, yet instances of bullying are relatively rare and quickly condemned by follow-up yaks. The app is a garden without weed killer, yet the we still take care to uproot out any choking growths.
This is the beauty of Yik Yak. It is a world in whose integrity is almost entirely up to its users, who face no consequences for what they post, but still, its integrity holds. It offers an unfiltered look into the things we want to say yet out of social rules do not say. It offers a chance for thoughts to be heard without being quickly dismissed because of the sayer’s social status. It offers us a deeper layer of our own collective psych. Yik Yak could be a rotten wasteland of trashing and backstabbing and nobody would have to claim responsibility, but, in Charleston at least, that’s not what it is, and that makes me optimistic of our student body’s future.