Yik Yak

Students at Colgate University in Iowa held a three-day sit-in on their campus last September. The reason? Racist messages left on Yik Yak, a popular new social media app flooding college campuses. I have to say I’m completely unsurprised.

I downloaded Yik Yak last semester after a front-page article about the app ran in the Statesman. The first time I read through the yaks, my eyes rolled so far back in my head I was afraid they would be stuck there. But I gave it another chance.

Yik Yak has a few ground rules for using the app, one of which is “don’t clutter people’s feeds with useless or offensive yaks. If you see a useless or offensive yak make sure to do your part by downvoting or reporting it.” The only way for a yakker to be suspended from Yik Yak is after continuous reports, though the rules don’t state just how many reports need to be made.

The problem with this system is that it is dependent on the area you’re stuck in — and the radius near UMD is a white-centric demographic. According to the 2013 UMD Student Profile, approximately 10% of students stated they were minorities. If they aren’t there to vote down the ignorant majority, who will?

In other words, 90% of UMD students are white. This breeds a culture of racism, both implicitly and explicitly. One Yak I read basically said that black people at UMD need to stop pretending they’re “hood” because they grew up in Duluth. I can’t help but assume this yakker has never been downtown and seen how non-middle-class white people grow up. There are many places in Duluth that aren’t cookie-cutter suburbs, and plenty of children of all races grow up in these environments. In other words, it’s entirely possible that these people are actually “hood.”

Of course, it’s entirely possible the person who wrote that yak was a black student who grew up in Duluth and knew what they were talking about. Or maybe it’s a white girl from the suburbs. The anonymity of the app is the entire point, after all. It uses your GPS to connect with people within a three-mile radius, and those who post do not disclose their personal information. It is basically an anonymous twitter targeted to your location.

I hate this. I think people should have to take ownership for what they say. If you want to leave an offensive yak you should be willing to say it with your name attached. I’ve never seen yaks that explicitly promote violence and hatred, but I can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time. As long as we continue to accept the anonymity this social media platform gives us, we are bound to find ourselves in a situation similar to Colgate. People will refuse to take responsibility for their comments and we will be unable to confront them because we don’t know who they are.

I really hope that UMD does not get into the situation Colgate is going through. I hope we can refrain from explicitly racist, sexist or homophobic yaks, but I’m not going to hold my breath. The level of ignorance that is already expressed on Yik Yak is enough to prove that our area is predominantly one of privilege, and unexamined privilege breeds oppression.

But the worst part for me is knowing that the people posting these asinine yaks are somewhere near me. Is the guy walking past me the one who just posted the stupid “friendzoned” yak? Is that the girl who humble-bragged about waking her boyfriend up with a blowjob? Is everyone around me actually 12-year-olds stuck in college-aged bodies?



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