The app with no consequences (or so you think)

Jacqueline Getchell — Guest Writer 

“I’m conflicted about abortion – I love murdering babies but I hate that women get a choice,” a week-old Yik Yak said, characteristic of much of the app’s content. 

Started in 2013 and shut down in 2017, Yik Yak reemerged in February of 2022 with new guidelines to prevent harmful comments. The company website provides a list of prohibited behaviors and relies on community monitoring to determine violations. Once a post receives five downvotes, Yik Yak will remove the comment, according to the Community Guardrails. Despite the insignificance of this consequence, the app also makes sure to provide a disclaimer purging themselves of any semblance of responsibility they might maintain. 

“Although Yik Yak may, in its sole discretion, monitor, screen, modify, refuse, remove or edit Submissions for any reason, Yik Yak is not obligated to do so,” the Terms of Service read. 

The flaws in this system of self-regulation and flimsy responsibility are made obvious by the continued existence of degrading and misogynistic comments. Considering the app relies on the moral standards of the same people who create the posts, it should not come as a surprise that the app is overrun with vulgarity. 

A post from two weeks ago that remains on the app said, “Just got done with another wonderful day of objectifying women just like all the other horny ***** on this app.” 

Professor Walker Cosgrove monitored Yik Yak at Dordt University and other local state colleges and commented on the perversion of Dordt’s Yik Yak in particular. 

“They’re treating women not as a human subject with whom I interact but an object,” Cosgrove said. “And ultimately it suggests a stunted view of humanity.” 

Cosgrove attempted to rationalize this behavior by examining the repressive backgrounds of many students at Dordt. Because students at secular schools are more sexually liberated, they are freer to express these thoughts to their friends or no longer think them. 

“For many students coming to Dordt there’s such rigid expectations and there’s no outlet for them, so you just begin to say things,” Cosgrove said. 

Some students use this same reasoning to celebrate the app’s anonymity. They claim that the app serves as an innocent platform for students to vent or share their meaningless thoughts. These students prove that ignorance is bliss, as they ignore the countless other users who may not be able to brush off offensive comments as easily. They attempt to justify their participation by giving others the benefit of the doubt and assuming any negative remarks are simply jokes, but this only perpetuates harmful behaviors as the posters can use this attitude to excuse their own actions. 

Students who use Yik Yak and do acknowledge the hurtful comments that exist on the app still attempt to blame themselves for taking offense at someone else’s sense of humor. Rather than questioning why someone would think racism and misogyny are funny, they assume they’re alone in not understanding the joke, and, as such, do nothing to prevent these remarks from continuing. 

Many users especially rely on the app’s anonymity to reassure themselves of its innocence. They falsely believe Yik Yak’s advertising and assume that none of their comments can ever be traced back to them. However, Yik Yak’s privacy policy admits to having collected: “Identifiers such as real name, alias, postal address, unique personal identifier, online identifier, Internet Protocol address, email address, account name, social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, or other similar identifiers,” and “Financial or health information: (examples: physical characteristics or description, address, telephone number, bank account number, credit card number, debit card number, financial information, medical information, health insurance information).” 

While Yik Yak guidelines restrict the inclusion of names in posts, this does nothing to prevent people from using distinct physical descriptors to single out an individual. Not to mention the many instances of names of professors and administrators that are never reported. 

Though Cosgrove admitted his ability to ignore offensive remarks, he addressed the difficulty of ensuring everyone on the app possesses the same capability. 

“The danger of it is even if you need safe places to say things, there are too many listening ears on Yik Yak for it to be that kind of place,” Cosgrove said. 

While Cosgrove hopes his classes provide students with a space to share ideas and ponder controversial topics, he also attested to the value of a trusted friend. In his own life, Cosgrove has benefited from the ability to share private thoughts within the confines of a close relationship. Referencing Aristotle’s idea of soulmates, Cosgrove explains that this term initially referred to a close friendship such as his. 

“You become more who you should be because you met a soulmate and you have these rich conversations and you become more in Christ’s image because of this friendship,” Cosgrove said. “That’s what we need. We don’t need Yik Yak.” 

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