Yik Yak Threats and Social Responsibility Questions

Yik Yak, an anonymous social media service that groups users together based solely on geographic location, is marketed as a network that “levels the playing field and gives everyone an equal voice.” By allowing users to post anonymous statements, and allowing other users to upvote or downvote these statements, “”the quietest kid in the class can be the funniest and the person with 20 Twitter followers can now reach a huge audience.” This sounds like an interesting concept with a benevolent purpose, but anyone familiar with Yik Yak – especially on college campuses – will tell you that this benevolent purpose is far from realistic.

On campuses, Yik Yak is often used as a platform for anonymous targeted insults to gain traction in a public forum. Personally, I never really cared about the fact that Yik Yak was used in such a slanderous and inflammatory way. Maybe it was because I never saw myself or someone I knew targeted on it, but even if I did, I know it is just an app. Maybe growing up around the Internet has taught me to take everything somebody writes there with a grain of salt. Regardless of what the reason for my insensitivity is, I still see that writing harmful things simply because they are anonymous is a twisted and unfortunate actuality.

Once anonymous comments cross over from slanderous to threatening, however, they need to be taken seriously. Recently, two students at the University of Central Oklahoma were charged for threatening to “shoot up” the school. These two students were the 11th and 12th students this semester to be charged for making threatening remarks on Yik Yak.

Somewhat expectedly, in each of these 12 cases, police found that there was little to no indication that the students had access to weapons or intended to follow through. Some students even admitted that their threats were pranks. Students from Drake University, the University of Albany, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Towson University, the University of Georgia, Widener University, and the University of Southern Mississippi have seen various charges including felony for a computer threat to cause injury, unlawful use of a computer, harassment, disorderly contact and terroristic acts. Students’ respective schools have also chimed in to deliver disciplinary action, as USM, Penn State and Drake confirmed that students who have posted threats on Yik Yak are no longer enrolled there.

Putting aside the fact that those who have been charged so far are complete boneheads, I think that there is another issue at play here. What is the deal with social networks that so clearly facilitate such shady use-cases? Does Yik Yak CEO Tyler Droll really believe that Yik Yak is providing a platform that empowers the “uncool kids”? If he is in tune with reality, does he, and should he, care that it is being used as a tool to cause undulations in communities?

Not to sound like an overly-PC narc, but the fact that certain social media platforms are beginning to enable questionable activity is maybe worth some consideration. Take Snapcash, for example. From a business perspective, it makes absolute sense. Venmo is making a killing, and since people already have all of their friends on Snapchat and use the app feverishly, why not integrate it with virtual payments? It is a great idea.

On the flipside, doesn’t pairing money and self-destructing pictures and videos create a platform for virtual prostitution? Again, by no means am I saying that these platforms should be banned or restricted. Snapcash and Yik Yak have positive use-cases that make a lot of sense. In the end, Snapchat and Yik Yak can only put themselves in a position to make money and provide a service that people like. If people find a way to a platform to cause harm, then I guess that is the unfortunate truth.

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