The Effects of Anonymity: Yik Yak’s Influence on Furman’s Campus 2

By Kip Jones, Class of 2017

Anyone affiliated with Furman will know the impact of Yik Yak on Furman’s campus. The Yik Yak CLP only confirmed the attention the university gives to the anonymous social media app. Students lined up out the door forty-five minutes before the scheduled start time. Attendees filled not only seats, but the stairs and floors of Daniel Recital Hall to hear Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, the founders of Yik Yak, also Furman alumni, speak about anonymity and Yik Yak.

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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)

Conversation before the CLP was filled with genuine excitement about what students were about to experience. As the lights overhead dimmed, the white glow from smart phone screens shone across the audience, Yik Yak pulled up on their screen. Everyone instantly yakked their opinions about the CLP on Yik Yak, a Holy Grail of sorts. As the founders began to speak, people started to yak increasingly. At its peak the students attending were yakking at rate of roughly 500 yaks per minute. At that rate, students had to think fast to be the first to post a witty Yak adding a challenging and fun dimension to the event.Yik Yak outside of the CLP takes on a different tone. Yaks are less frequent and can range from passive aggressive posts telling one’s hall mates to quiet down, gossiping, and spreading rumors concerning Greek life. The question I aim to answer here, though, is this: Why do we love it so much? What makes Yik Yak so great?

Yik Yak’s defining characteristic is that the user is completely anonymous in a public forum. For many, this is extremely liberating as it relieves pressure of being judged and offers opportunity to voice an opinion without having to face any negative repercussions for doing so. Anonymity is the ultimate equalizer. The “cool kids” do not get more up votes because of their reputations, and you never know if the yak you are reading was posted by someone in a fraternity or sorority you do not like. It could be the kid who sits in the back of class and never says a word or it could be the girl or guy you have a crush on; there is no way of knowing. Everyone has a voice on Yik Yak and on any given day, anyone’s post could be at the top of the hot list.

While the app is not a judgment-free social media, the judgment is not directed towards the individuals, but towards posts. Yakkers do not care if you are a girl or boy, greek or independent, black or white. When you post, all that matters is the content. Humor, validity, and honesty are the only factors in determining whether the yak will receive an up or down vote. This is not to say the reader does not stereotype each yak, attempting to guess who posted the yak. I have realized, however, that when I imagine the other yakkers, more often than not, I imagine that they are somebody similar to myself. I may not agree with what his or her post says, but I picture the yaks being posted by someone I am familiar with, rather than a stranger. For the most part, I feel that the Yik Yak community looks at each other as friends rather than enemies. In the midst of a pressure-filled college life where we are all expected to be associated with a definite identity, it is nice to turn to a platform where the opposite is required, and you can be anybody and nobody all at once.

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