Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Students ‘yak’ back

By James Steinbauer, University Editor

Of the initial 200 campuses that began using Yik Yak, one of the newest additions to the anonymous networking family, Miami University has been one of the most active in the nation, according to the company's Lead Community Developer Cam Mullen.

"We see people sharing funny stories about their weekend, a project they're working on, exams," Yik Yak Lead Community Developer Cam Mullen said. "There are a million different ways students post on the app."

Yik Yak espouses itself as the coffee shop corkboard for the digital age, but unlike in the local Starbucks, where people are obligated to follow certain social norms or the barista can remove offensive fliers, Yik Yak's anonymity promises users a safe place to post without consequence.

"Personally, I find it akin to writing on a bathroom stall and walking away," MUPD Lt. Ben Spilman said. "I see little redeeming social value to something like this."

Throughout the past few months, multiple universities have had high-profile confrontations with the app.

An 18-year-old freshman at Towson University in Maryland was arrested in October 2014 after he threatened on the app to carry out a "Virginia Tech part 2." In 2011, a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two attacks.

In Atlanta, Emory University's student government passed a resolution denouncing Yik Yak as "a platform for hate speech or harassment" and in March 2014, abuses on the app became so abysmal in Chicago that Yik Yak decided to suspend operations in the area.

Miami University students witnessed a situation like this first-hand this past November when Hughes hall was the target of two bomb threats. Although the investigation is ongoing, authorities said that the threats were initially referred to on Yik Yak.

"We realize that with any social app or network there's a likelihood for bad apples," Mullen said. "The larger we become the more we will find. It is our job, first and foremost, to keep our users safe."

When a serious threat is posted on the app, Yik Yak notifies the local authorities. While the app capitalizes on its users' anonymity, Yik Yak can track posts made on the app by someone to specific locations in order to help the authorities paint a picture of the person who made the threat.

"It has been my experience that these types of organizations are not very responsive to law enforcement when there is an investigation afoot," Spilman said.

In order to prevent cyber-bullying on the app, Yik Yak has blocked nearly 85 percent of the high schools and middle schools throughout the nation from using the app and a smartphone user must be 17 years or older in order to download the app.

"People this age weren't really ready psychologically to handle the maturity required for Yik Yak," Mullen said. "We see a much more democratic use of the app on college campuses."

"This is not strong enough to prevent postings that are hurtful and inflammatory," Miami University Director of Student Counseling Services Kip Alishio said. "Those types of posts would do damage before they are evaluated and taken down."

Yik Yak provides an alternative to the superficial postings of accomplishments and success stories that one finds on other social media apps like Facebook.

"You don't post things that are too distressing on Facebook," Alishio said. "You want to post something that you can associate with your name."

Then, there is Yik Yak, where people tend to post expressions of their most base feelings and thoughts. Because Yik Yak promises complete anonymity, users don't have to temper what they post - they don't think about the sensitivity of what they are saying or how it will impact others.

"We need something that is in between those two extremes," Alishio said. "People need to have places where they can post their own authentic and less happy, more critical thoughts and feelings; however, they need to think those feelings through and do it in a way they can take responsibility for."