By Courtney Such, News Editor
“Four eyes” turned a shade of red that students could see from the very last row in Daniel Recital Hall.
“I think they want you to stop talking,” Dr. Sarah Worth, moderator and philosophy professor, said to Dr. Brandon Inabinet, (“four eyes”) panelist and communications assistant professor.
Jaws dropped at the Tuesday, Sept. 23 evening “Yik Yak: A Social Phenomenon in Context” event.
Creators Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, Furman alums and former fraternity brothers, watched their app implode a craze within the corded auditorium. Its massive build-up attached more than 360 people, exceeding the fire code limits of the Daniel Recital Hall, and taking over Furman’s Yik Yak account.
The app was created in 2013 with the intention of giving everyone an opportunity to anonymously post whatever is on their mind. By simply downloading the app and enabling it to use the phone’s location, the closest university will become the default feed. Users are also able to “peek” into one of the hundreds of other schools that have Yik Yak.
“Three words I would use to describe it: local anonymous twitter… basically using location, you can post an idea and anyone around you can interact with you,” Droll said.
“Anyone can talk to anyone without having to know them… it was basically akin the power out of the hands of the few and no matter who you are on campus, you have the ability to relay a funny experience or share a piece of news, and everyone is equal on Yik Yak. It does’t matter who you are – race, religion, none of that matters. If you have something funny to say you can share it. Content is purely based just on content,” Buffington added.
Inabinet brought his scholarly expertise criticizing on-line anonymity with him to th panel discussion, but within seconds of his next talking point, yaks were posted encouraging students to cough every time he spoke.
“This right here is exactly what Yik Yak does – makes a room full of strangers into a community,” Buffington said.
The crowd’s disruptive behavior did not cease there. Furman’s Cournet Thomas, chapter president of the NAACP, went up to make a comment during the microphone Q&A about it, and before she was finished speaking, she was being targeted on Yik Yak.
Person after person went up standing for what they believe in only to be targeted on the university’s Yik Yak feed.
The creator’s responses? THe number of success stories and community support the app creates are more important than its sometimes mocking byproducts.
One Vanderbilt University student yakked that his brother needed a blood match for a transfusion, and about 1,000 people showed up to the drive, most of whom the student never met.
A Clemson University student who passed away caught attention across South Carolina, sparking a statewide “wear orange” campaign in his memory.
Although Buffington and Droll kept their cool and combated the tension with stories of blood drives and breaking down social carries, people across the nation are still left questioning the caliber of maturity when using anonymous tools like Yik Yak.
How far is too far? If this type of criticism has the power to dominate the Furman Yik Yak feed in a room stuffed to over-capacity in a matter of seconds, what is it doing nationwide?
Dr. Robert Agne, a Communications professor and specialist in social interaction at Auburn University, which is the number one featured school on the app’s “peek” page, sees anonymity as an issue.
“I find it very difficult to use those outlets as interaction – I think they are interactive but I don’t think that they are interactional. People aren’t interacting with one another like conversation. It’s interactive… and I think on a broader scale there’s a conversation going on, but it;s so removed from ordinary talk that it becomes a very different animal,” Agne said.
As for controversial topics popping up on anonymous forums like Yik Yak, Agne sees it as inevitable.
“Without ownership of who’s posting what…. I would speculate that there is a lot of opportunity for a lot of profane language, a lot of racist language, because people aren’t taking ownership of what they are saying, so I would guess that’s the case,” Ange said.
The accountability factor is something that Buffington and Droll took into consideration. They took a common approach that other communication mediums use – a user-based reporting system. Users have the ability to “up-vote/down-vote” what they do and do not like. If a oct hits five “down vote,” it will automatically be deleted.
“They [yakkers] are held accountable by the community. It’s up o the community to policy itself and “vote down” inappropriate content,” Droll said.
“When we made this, we wanted to make something scalable and sustainable, and in order to do that, it needs to be community moderated,” he added.
Despite all of the criticism Buffington and Droll receive, the duo argues that profanity is in every corner of life.
“THe simplest answer to it is that social media is no utopia. There’s close-minded people, there’s racist people, there’s jerks in real life and there’s jerks on social media too… these people exist on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram. There’s other mediums, they are just on Yik Yak too,” Buffington said.
The entire process of anonymously voicing opinions is something the two feel passionate about embracing.
It’s a power to be able to say something without your name being attached, and we want alert people to those risks and let them know how to use it appropriately… I think that’s an American right. THe Federalist Papers were written anonymously so it’s the principal America is built on. Why can’t everyone still have that power? But with that power comes responsibility,” said Droll.
Yik Yak has not received any liability threats of emotional distress of students on the university level.
Buffington and Droll are, however, receiving praise and inquiry on how the universities can use Yik Yak to get to know the students better. Colleges continue to add to the list of Yik Yaks every day, and only time will tell how the rest of the country will react to its role on campuses.