The anonymous social media app known as Yik Yak has been sweeping college campuses across the nation since last summer. To date, students on over 1,600 campuses use Yik Yak to share opinions, vent frustrations and elicit the occasional helping hand.
Furman University students Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll created Yik Yak in November of 2013.
“They thought, ‘Why doesn’t everyone have this power to reach out their community and say what’s on their mind?’” said Ben Popkin in an exclusive interview with The Chanticleer last week. Popkin is the lead community manager for Yik Yak, and his department manages aspects such as customer support, press releases and overview and monitoring of the Yaks.
“[They wanted] a way to give everyone an equal playing field and an equal voice,” said Popkin.
For students with the app, an “equal playing field” is not necessarily the first thought that comes to mind. While there are gems to be found (What student doesn’t appreciate Patrick Star’s voice in their head when they read, “We should take Stone Center and push it somewhere else,”) they are often hidden underneath scores of Yaks looking for one night stands or raging parties.
And, of course, not everyone is fond of Yik Yak. Many people, especially those who work for or have children in high schools, see the app as just another medium for cyberbullying. In fact, several high schools from Connecticut to California petitioned Yik Yak to ban the app in middle schools and high schools during the app’s early days.
Yik Yak’s response was geofencing, a software feature that blocks the app from being accessed within 1.5 miles of a high school.
“We recognize that with any social media there’s a likelihood for misuse by certain small groups, [but] we see it mostly used the way we intended it to,” Popkin said. “Occasionally, like all social media apps, we don’t have 100% perfect use on college campuses. They’re mostly mature. The good stuff gets upvoted and the bad stuff gets downvoted, so usually the bad things get rid of themselves.”
In regards to the threats of violence that have shut down high school and colleges campuses alike, Popkin said, “It is anonymous social media site, but being anonymous doesn’t give people the right to make threats. It’s like any other social media site. If threats are made and the police get involved, we have to comply.”
And then there’s a more recent controversy. Yik Yak has been accused of systematically downvoting all Yaks containing a competing app’s name, such as Fade and Sneak, even if it is completely out of context. For example, if someone were to Yak, “Who wants a sneak peek of the Southerners’ 2015 show?”, an algorithm would detect the word “sneak” and automatically downvote the Yak once every minute until it disappeared.
“Yik Yak¹s security and anti-spam measures are meant to improve the user experience and aligns with Yik Yak¹s goal of creating beneficial social communities,” Popkin said. “The company recognizes the importance of constantly improving the technology to ensure users are having the best possible experience on the app.”
Yik Yak recently contacted The Chanticleer about JSU’s Yik Yak feed, stating that it has become one of the most active campuses in the region.
“JSU is a good community,” Popkin said. “It’s a good, close college campus. You guys kind of came together and bonded over that [snow day]. You guys really use the app in the way it’s meant to.”
So, there’s something for you to yak about, Gamecocks!