Over the past week I became aware of a new social media app: Yik Yak. For those of us millennials, imagine Yik Yak as Formspring 2.0—a Formspring without borders; anyone can post content about a specific individual regardless of whether or not the specific individual owns an account. For those a bit older, Yik Yak acts as an anonymous public forum; anonymous people (despite the tone and intent) post content directly to a page viewable to people within a set location.
As a whole, the idea appears harmless, but how quickly do virtuous ideas unravel into chaotic disorder?
Anonymity allows for the creation of more unfiltered content, but unhindered content brings inherent complications as well—Yik Yak has become an online forum devoted to devastatingly painful remarks. These remarks, despite being published in an online forum, do not necessarily possess elements of truth, but in an online anonymous forum, differentiating between truthfulness and falsity becomes a daunting task—rumor flourishes and the truth rots.
Some may argue anonymous posts allow individuals to acknowledge others in a positive manner, and I admit there may be some notable examples of actions of this kind. Unfortunately, anonymous posting generally amplifies the voices of the hateful—those who are too fearful to speak out openly because they understand the ignorance and falsity present in their speech. The power of anonymity gives a public voice to cowards rather than the strong—those who speak out are often those with ill intent. Sites like Yik Yak—sites quite capable of fostering a humane environment—digress into wastelands festering in negativity and hatred and vice; places devoid of the fruits of society.
In an article written by Eric Stoller for insidehighered.com, Stoller focuses on the rise of Yik Yak across college campuses. He admits some posts are humorous, but goes on to say that many posts contain elements of sexism, racism, homophobia and explicit drug references. Stoller goes on to say that although anonymous posting does not necessarily give way to relentless vulgar comments, it appears (historically at least) that sites allowing anonymous posts inevitably digress into online platforms aiding in the perpetuation of hateful comments.
Toward the end of his piece, Stoller asks: “What motivates people to be so horrible and cruel when they’re posting on anonymous forums?”
In a different insidehighered.com article, Sean Decatur posits the hostility blossoming from sites allowing anonymous posts reflects society.
“The problem lies in a culture that accepts – indeed embraces – the act of broadcasting, behind a protective mask of anonymity, statements that most would find offensive,” Decatur says.
Shrouded in a veil of anonymity, the coward aspires to become brave.
Whatever the reason for the brutal nature of posts circulating through Yik Yak, the negativity still exists despite the need for it to end. I understand my column may fall on deaf ears, I understand I fight an uphill battle, I understand more important issues need tending to; but I think the proliferation of scathing remarks aimed so carelessly at people sharing a common community must cease.
Anonymity necessitates tastefulness, and if tastefulness is lacking, anonymity must be done away with too.