When economics professor Aleh Tsyvinski discovered that he was the target of insulting Yik Yak posts following a midterm exam, he found the posts hilarious, and even educational.
After taking the test, one user posted, “Why Aleh why?” Others made more use of profanity.
Tsyvinski proceeded to send an email to placate his students by outlining an approximate grade curve and even posted several of the Yaks on his next lecture presentation as a joke. A potentially inflammatory situation ended in laughter and transparency. However, not all reactions to Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to anonymously post and “upvote” or “downvote” comments, have been positive.
A March 8 New York Times article reported that an Eastern Michigan University professor threatened legal action after discovering offensive posts about her on Yik Yak. Since then, the application has sparked increased debates about how it is used, and how it ought to be used, on college campuses. Although students make up most of the application’s user base at Yale, professors and other members of the community have also been swept into the latest popular, yet controversial social media vehicle.
Tsyvinski said that as a professor, he rarely gets feedback during the term. He added that he wishes there were an anonymous board, similar to Yik Yak, dedicated to continuous feedback.
“Yik Yak is a great way to see what students’ life is really like,” he said, adding that the application should be used for largely comedic purposes. “About 10 percent of things on it are things I care about. I can see what is interesting to students, from the weather to their social lives.”
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Yik Yak automatically sorts messages by geographical location. Computer science professor Frederick Shic said the proximity with other users makes comments on Yik Yak more relevant and enhances aspects of social relatedness, which is particularly appealing to younger demographics. He added that the anonymity can either be a great tool for speaking the truth or to cover anti-social behaviors.
Some professors, however, said anonymity has a decidedly negative effect when used on social media.
Computer science professor Daniel Abadi said Yik Yak has provided a platform that promotes “animalistic inclinations without the social pressures of personal accountability.”
“The cyber-bullying present on Yik Yak is symptomatic of new challenges that a society faces with the emergence of anonymous communication applications,” he said.
Andrea Press, a University of Virginia media studies professor, said several studies that show Yik Yak’s anonymity may enable a small number of individuals to account for the majority of postings. Press added that her research has found minority students eschew the application because of extreme racist expressions found on it.
“Perhaps it isn’t ‘democracy’ that’s being enabled [by Yik Yak], but more the expression of rather unpopular perspectives that most cringe from expressing in public,” she said.
Students interviewed expressed divided opinions on the application. Of eight students aware of the application, four are current users, while two had used Yik Yak before deleting it.
Scott Hicks ’18, who recently deleted the application, said while there was some humorous content, he also saw a lot of anonymous hate and gossip.
Others, though, said the application is a source of entertainment.
Danilo Zak ’18 said he does not post on Yik Yak, but browses it for amusement. Although he said he has seen some gossip and name-dropping, he said this is not a huge deal.
Yik Yak was created in November 2013.