By Tony Cacioppo, Eryn Johnson & Katie Meikle
Boise State joins the herd
Money, booze, Boise River Cafe ice cream, missed connections, classroom complaints and Thirsty Thursday: welcome to Yik Yak.
College students have been plugged into social media since its invention. At any given time on campus, a Boise State student is updating a status, sending a tweet or posting a picture on Instagram.
And now, they’re yakking.
From “I think my English 102 professor ate too much paste as a kid” to “For the love of god, fix the ice cream machine,” Yik Yak allows students to share their thoughts, feelings, concerns and all other things relevant to the Boise State community while remaining anonymous.
The app takes the form of a virtual bulletin board, allowing community members within a 1.5 mile radius to view one another’s posts and up-vote or down-vote the content if they choose.
Fellow yakkers can view the newest and the hottest yaks based on the popularity of the post in their feed.
The anonymous herd continues to grow as more students download the app and share it with friends.
“My friends talk about it all the time,” said Brenden Tierney, freshman computer science major. “It’s always fun to read off of someone’s phone and see the things people post.”
Students are using the app constantly on campus.
“I check it more in lecture classes I would say because you’re not writing all the time,” said Skylar Luna, undecided freshman. “You have a chance to check it more often than you do in smaller classes when you’re writing and doing work.”
Luna is new to the herd but she’s not entirely sure she likes what she sees.
“I don’t even think half the stuff is true that people post on there,” Luna said. “There are definitely some out-there statements that people post on there. People just post stuff to get a rise out of other people.”
The fate of the Boise State herd remains unknown
With great power comes great responsibility. While some degree of accountability is inherent in a Facebook post, the same cannot be said for an anonymous yak.
The content students have been posting on Yik Yak is raising eyebrows and concern around campus.
“I bet some students love (the app) because this gives them that opportunity—this really truly free speech to say whatever they want about whatever they want,” said ASBSU president Bryan Vlok. “As I begin to continue to read some of the posts on there, the app gets worse and worse.”
Various forms of bullying, sexual references and vulgar content are daily features on the Boise State Yik Yak feed. In fact, some of the content has gotten so bad that Vlok met with Chris Wuthrich, dean of students, to discuss what should be done about it.
The verdict? Wait.
“Maybe it’ll be one of those apps that will just die out, but that hasn’t seemed to be the case just yet,” Vlok said.
The use of Yik Yak has previously led to incidents of cyberbullying at many high schools across the country. In response, the owners of Yik Yak instigated a system of geo-fencing, prohibiting the use of the app in geographic areas too close to most middle and high schools in the U.S.
After all, Yik Yak was originally designed for a mature, college audience.
Unfortunately, those two things do not always coincide.
Cofounder of Yik Yak Brooks Buffington acknowledged that there is a potential for misuse from a small group of users. However, Yik Yak monitors conversations and posts and blocks or bans users that post negative and harmful information.
“We recognize that with any social app or network, there is the likelihood for misuse from a small group of users, so we have put specific algorithms in place to prevent this from happening,” Buffington said in an email.
These are just some of the measures in place to preserve a positive yakking experience.
According to Buffington, the technology behind Yik Yak inherently encourages positive interaction and yakking communities tend to self-police in many ways to inspire positive campus connections. connections.
Yik Yak reserves the right to terminate accounts and delete submissions of users who abuse their anonymous privileges to discuss illegal activities, use racially or ethnically offensive language, harass others in any way or otherwise violate the Yik Yak terms of service.
The content posted on the app is still largely uncensored—for better and for worse. While universities in Chicago, New Mexico and Vermont have banned Yik Yak, the fate of the Boise State Yik Yak herd is not as yet determined.
Regardless, according to Casy Parrish, freshman pre-med major, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
“Yik Yak will only get bigger from here,” Parrish said. “The amount of attention it’s drawing will only increase people’s desire to use it.”
A new phenomenon: the thrill of full disclosure
Since the average college student whips out his or her phone 11 times on average everyday while sitting in class, according to a 2013 University of Nebraska study, it is no surprise that the concept of a live, anonymous feed of what other students are thinking on a moment-to-moment basis is an appealing one to college students.
Granted, college students have been venting their thoughts and emotions on social media for years.
According to Buffington anonymity is a particularly appealing concept to social media users and college students specifically because it levels the playing field.
Yik Yak posts trends based entirely on what is said, not who is saying it. This empowers social media users to a new level of full disclosure void of individual judgment.
“Anonymity appeals to people because they are judged based on their content, not their profile or other identifying characteristics,” said Buffington. “By eliminating identifiable characteristics, Yik Yak is breaking down barriers that other social platforms erect.”
Boise State psychology professor Mary Pritchard suggested that the need for full disclosure among traditional-aged college students is all about seeking self-identification and peer approval.
“For many college students, developmentally speaking in terms of their identity and the core of who they think they are, there’s a lot of change that happens in the college student years,” Pritchard said. “There’s a need to really define a sense of self and to figure out who you are.”
The need to self-identify can spurn the compulsion to publicize thoughts, feelings and other details of one’s private life.
“It’s really an identity crisis and the advent of social media has allowed people to process their identity crises on an international level, basically, so anyone can chime in, not just their friends who are with them in that college environment,” Pritchard said.
According to Buffington, the idea of sharing private thoughts and feelings creates a feeling of belonging in the campus community.
“What we see at Yik Yak isn’t so much the sharing of secrets or confessions but the sharing of those common campus experiences, campus news or funny observations. The anonymous aspect of Yik Yak really comes second to the local nature of Yik Yak; college students find Yik Yak appealing because they get local content that they can’t find anywhere else,” Buffington said.