MySociaLife

Yik Yak is back: What you need to know.

The infamous Yik Yak has resurfaced on the apple app store after a four years hiatus. The once-popular app took its tumble after blame for cyberbullying, hate speech and threats of violence. This time, Yik Yak has pledged to keep its users safe.

Yik Yak is a location-based anonymous social media app. The app was founded in 2013 by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. It soared to popularity among colleges, universities and schools. Users could view threads within a five-mile radius of their location. These posts were upvoted or downvoted, with the most popular rising to the top. The app reached its peak in 2014, racking up around 1.8 million downloads, but met a plummeting decline and ignoble end by 2017 after being delisted from Google Play Charts.

Both the users and the business itself were the cause for the decline. The users utilised the anonymity of the app – bullying and hate speech were rife. At a point, Yik Yak was compelled to block middle and high school users when in-app harrying poured into real life. Menaces of bombing and gun violence caused some schools to go into lockdown in 2014. Yik Yak shared details of students who posted these threats with the police, some of whom faced criminal charges and arrests.

The company lacked action and responsiveness in resisting these behaviours, failing to implement proactive steps to remove harmful content and improve user experience. The eventual destructive in-app changes removed anonymity by creating usernames and handles, which led people to stop posting almost overnight.

An MIT media lab study compared Yik Yak to Twitter. Its findings showed that posts on the anonymous platform were only somewhat more likely to include vulgar words, with a difference of less than one per cent. So what was it about Yik Yak that made the harassment so disturbing? Many have noticed the app’s hyper locality, knowing that the hateful content was not from a stranger in a basement somewhere but instead, from the same classrooms and dining halls where the students were.

The newly vamped company says it is taking a strong stance against hate speech and bullying, with a new one-strike policy set up. “If someone bullies another person, uses hate speech, makes a threat, or in any way seriously violates the Community Guardrails or Terms of Service, they can be immediately banned from Yik Yak. One strike, and you’re out.” They have also created mental health and stay safe resources.

The development rights for the app were purchased from Square in February 2021 by new owners, who are currently unidentified. “We’re bringing Yik Yak back because we believe the global community deserves a place to be authentic, a place to be equal, and a place to connect with people nearby,” stated the website.

The new app is exclusively available to American IOS users for download, but the company says it soon intends to extend to more devices and countries. Students seek to express themselves where they feel heard. The anonymity of Yik Yak allows students to feel “safe” and free of judgment. The encouragement to be “authentic and anonymous” in an online space could prompt people to say or do things they usually would not. The promise of anonymity is misleading – personal information may spill via another person, which could be enough for a waiting predator. Upholding the guidelines is dependent on the users, meaning that banned topics could easily be seen by many before being removed. It’s important to remember that nothing posted online is truly anonymous, and threats of violence is a legal offensive in most places.

Yik Yak’s anonymous structure and interaction with nearby strangers may impose danger, specifically towards children. So the revival of the app has us wondering: Will Yik Yak be safer the second time around?

It’s unlikely. Do your due diligence before allowing this and similar anonymous chat apps into the suite of socialising channels that make their way onto your child’s phone or tablet…

– Article by Ruby Koter

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