Opinions

The Effects of Anonymity: Yik Yak’s Influence on Furman’s Campus 1

By Rebecca Zimmerman, Copy Editor

Over the past few weeks, Furman’s Yik Yak has shown its power. The social messaging app, which allows anonymous posts to be seen by users in their general vicinity, has interfered with speakers at a CLP, expressed collective outrage over Furman’s sprinkler use, created a new sorority stereotype, and singled out specific fans at football games. A lot of ink has been spilled over whether this power is good or bad: Do the examples of Yik Yak being used for positive community action outweigh its tendency to promote hateful, negative speech? I, however, would like to ask a new question: Whose power is it? Who should take responsibility for Yik Yak’s content? The app’s moderators and founders? Or its users? Within its bright gleams of collective action and liminal speech, there is still much of Yik Yak that is dark, degrading, or, at the very least, trivial and I believe that it is time for us, the yakkers, to take responsibility for it. If we want Yik Yak to be considered acceptable and important, then we need to start posting things that are acceptable and worthy of respect.

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Yik Yak’s signature component is user anonymity, resulting in faceless posts that indulge in stereotyping, humor and peer-support. (Photo Courtesy of Sidney Dills)

The very anonymity of Yik Yak holds enormous potential. Furman students could use it to ask for advice on coming out of the closet, garner unfiltered opinions from other users, or express radical political and social ideas without fear of repercussion. As such, the app has been compared to historical documents that relied on their anonymity like the Federalist Papers and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

One yakker posted last week, however, “I accidentally liked something mean on Facebook because I forgot it wasn’t Yik Yak.” At least so far, Yik Yak is not being used to its positive potential. It is falling into the YouTube comments trap, the trend for Internet negativity. Instead of sparking positive action, its anonymity is being used as a way to “be mean,” posting everything from snarky comments to racist speech that users would never own in their “real” lives to be held accountable for.

Another yakker posted, “I don’t report posts that are vulgar or that call people out. I report posts for not being unique.” This shows both the inherent failure in Yik Yak’s down-vote system—the app’s version of quality control in which users decide which posts to take down—as well as whose responsibility this is. While the system was created to curb Yik Yak’s    content and enforce its rules while giving power to its users, we are not using it to protect others, but rather to make sure that our least favorite jokes are not repeated on our dashboards. This is both our responsibility and within our realm of possibility to correct.

Does this mean that Yik Yak’s creators are completely off the hook? Absolutely not. No one has the right to bully, slander, or verbally abuse anyone else and Yik Yak’s moderators should take greater responsibility for their app’s allowance of this. While they often site their inability to monitor all posts, sites like Neopets already have in place automatic filters that prevent users from posting racial slurs and targeted speech. Such automatic commands could easily be applied to Yik Yak while lighter filters could automatically report questionable posts left unreported by humor-seeking users. Still, the easiest way to make Yik Yak a more powerful, respectable place, is not to focus on stopping offensive posts once they are online, but by preventing them from being posted in the first place. In this capacity, the responsibility falls to Yik Yak’s users. Its power belongs to us.

We need to remember, however, that while the free speech one brand of which Yik Yak’s anonymity attempts to provide is a right, it is also a responsibility. As the First Amendment states, it should not be used to protect slanderous or dangerous speech. It is time for us to take responsibility for the way our yaks impact our reputation or encroach upon the rights and freedoms of others. Anonymity cannot mean unaccountability. Only then can we see Yik Yak truly succeed.

Would you rather be punished one time or three times in a row? What happened to Ray Rice was not fair because he was punished three separate times because of his celebrity status. Celebrities should not be treated any differently than regular people.

Ray Rice, the running back of the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended from the Ravens because of a video that showed him hitting his then-fiancée, Janay-Palmer. Feb. 15, Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault in a casino. Four days later, TMZ released a video of Rice dragging Palmer’s body out of a casino elevator. This proved that the incident was a lot more serious than a “minor physical altercation.” Rice was then charged with third degree aggravated assault. After this first video, the judge ordered that Rice be admitted to a pretrial program for his “anger issues” and then, July 27, the NFL announced that Rice would receive a two game suspension. Sept. 8, TMZ showed a video of Rice striking Palmer in the face, knocking her out. His third punishment now was that he would be indefinitely suspended from the team.

Ray Rice was punished three separate times because the media tried to cover all the video clips. Ironically, this action ended up hurting Rice, which was not the original intent of the NFL; they did all of this to keep him. They tried to hide the video clips from the public because they did not want to lose Rice. Now he is indefinitely suspended because of their unfair actions. First, Ray Rice was accepted to a pretrial program and suspended for two games after the earlier video of him dragging his then-fiancée out of the elevator. Then he was suspended indefinitely after TMZ released another video of Rice hitting Palmer.

This is not fair to Rice, nor would it have been fair to anyone else. Since he is seen as a celebrity, the media and NFL tried to cover up these videos three separate times. If he had been treated like any other normal person, he would have had just one punishment instead of enduring three.   

People should not be treated differently just because they are famous. Doing this could also hurt the person you are trying to protect, just like it hurt Ray Rice and backfired on the NFL. All human beings are created equal under the law, so why is that different for celebrities? The Declaration of Independence of the United States even states that “all men are created equal.” This phrase is so important to our culture. This is what the United States is proud of and it is what we should live by.

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