Yik Yak, a Twitter-esque mobile application that displays a feed of short messages sent from users only limited by proximity that are also completely anonymous, has gained popularity across the country, including at Stony Brook University.
Posters are nameless and without avatars, completely unable to prove their identity over the app, even if they wanted to. The app separates groups of posters by location, mostly by college. Although a user can use the “Peek” feature to check out posts being sent out at other universities, he or she can only post in his or her proximity.
Posts, or “Yaks,” can be upvoted, downvoted, or replied to, similar to Reddit. A user can view the highest upvoted Yaks at the time and collect “Yakarma” points, a score which measures how often the user Yaks and the popularity of said Yaks.
“I actually saw it as a top app on the App Store, and I did not know whether people were using it around here, and I found very quickly that a few people were in it,” Will Bermingham, a sophomore journalism major, said. “It’s blown up in the last week or so.”
Alex Zahlout, a sophomore psychology major, has also succumbed to the Yik Yak explosion.
“The last two weeks [I’ve been on] like daily,” Zahlout said. “It’s anonymous so it’s really awesome when you’re funny and people think you’re funny but they don’t know it’s you.”
“I think it’s hilarious,” Bermingham said. “I think certain people can be really funny about it, and if you just go to some of the top stuff it can be very funny.”
The app’s users definitely have their moments. One can find Yaks such as one that read, “The football team is doing just as well as my GPA. Fancy that.”
Yik Yak is not all jokes, however. The app’s users said its use of limiting communication to one school has allowed them to get creative.
“Somebody said to do jumping jacks in the Union if you’re on Yik Yak,” Zahlout said. “I thought it probably would have been a funny sight.”
“There’s a lot of call-outs, not necessarily in a bad way,” Bermingham said. Oftentimes, you will see posters anonymously complimenting somebody in their class, or somebody they saw walking by the SAC.
There is also plenty of whining on the app, according to another user, sophomore undeclared major Dan Perillo.
“I’ve seen people complain about other people in classes,” Perillo said. “People complaining about their sex lives.”
This may paint a picture of a harmless, fun app, but as with most things, there are awful people there to ruin it, users said. Zahlout points to “racist comments” as one of the app’s “common themes.”
“Whenever people are anonymous, there’s going to be people who say things whether or not they believe them,” Bermingham said. “Usually I’d say they probably don’t, people usually just say things because they can, usually to get a rise out of someone.”
Bermingham brings up what is called the “Online Disinhibition Effect,” which skews an individual’s moral and social guidelines when they are anonymous on the internet, as described in an article published by the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic studies. Yik Yak has a feature in which you can flag any Yaks that may be offensive, but controversy has not been avoided.
The app has drawn a large amount of concern from schools and parents because of how easily people could anonymously bully others using Yik Yak. According to a Fox News story, a 17-year-old high school student in California was charged with three felony counts of making a terrorist threat on the app in April.
Whether the app continues to grow as a comical way to kill time or the easiest way to intimately spew hate is based around the individuals who log on every day. “[There is] some funny stuff on it,” Perillo said. “But sometimes it’s just dumb.”