Yik Yak fuels hate: Anonymous app creates controversy

Yik Yak is the new smartphone application that is spreading like wildfire. Business Insider describes it as “a hyper-local place to rant about anything anonymously with people in your community.” The text posts within a 1.5-mile radius appear in the user’s feed, making it popular on college campuses.

The developers — two recent college graduates from Furman University in South Carolina — intended the app to work as a location-based news source. However, it has quickly devolved into a ruthless gossip app, with racist and offensive messages sparking outrage and hurt.

Unfortunately, not only are large state universities and public high schools using the app: it is being misused right here at John Brown University.

“Generally, the university approves and encourages edifying debate, discourse and public encouragement,” read a statement from the University. “A lot of what transpires on Yik Yak falls into those categories. We are concerned about posts where people hide under the cloak of anonymity to celebrate the profane and un-Godly, and even worse, hurt others.”

Chaplain Rod Reed also discussed the app, saying, “It’s just not a positive influence on campus.” He will speak about the issue in chapel this morning. Discussion about how to address the deeper issues the app is exposing will continue as well.

Last week in particular, several racist statements appeared on Yik Yak during and after guest speaker Vincent Bacote came to chapel. There have also been cruel comments directed at the University’s Walton Scholars, specific students, cheerleaders, professors and others.

We The Threefold Advocate will always support the First Amendment, as we believe that freedom of speech is a fundamental right. We do not believe in censorship, and we believe people should be able to share their opinions. However, just because we can say whatever we want does not mean that we should do so.

We are disgusted by many of the messages that have been posted to Yik Yak at our university’s campus. While it is probable there is only a small handful of students posting such hateful content, it is still too many.

Even though Yik Yak allows other users to “upvote” or “downvote” a message — with five downvotes permanently deleting the message — users are still seeing negative and even cruel messages that do not accurately reflect the feelings of the campus as a whole.

The content on the app is not only offensive and disrespectful to many, but it is also a dangerous liability to the school. Alumni have been alarmed at the content, and there is a possibility that donors could pull funding from the school because of it. At other universities, it has been used to post threats, leading to school lockdowns and severe criminal offenses.

In a place that is supposed to be home to academic discussion and spiritual growth, this app is seriously threatening both.

Because of its anonymity, users are not held responsible for what they post, which inevitably leads to abuse. While some users are trying to combat the negativity with uplifting messages, funny jokes, Bible verses and positive encouragement, the app seems to be dominated by hateful, angry people.

We do not have a solution to the animosity Yik Yak has revealed on our campus, but it is clear that it needs to be addressed. After all, the hateful messages are not problems, but symptoms of problems that have been brought to light.