Abby Starkenburg – Staff Writer
After a fun day of attending the Tri-wizard event and catching up on homework, Anna Kerstetter, a freshman at Dordt University, sat on her dorm bed with her friends. They opened Yik Yak, only to find their fellow students making crude comments about one another.
Kerstetter found the comments made about females especially disturbing. People repeatedly commented about what is attractive in women’s bodies and what is not, and sometimes resorted to name-dropping when talking about certain body types.
“It’s hard to read – it makes you sad because that is what the next generation is saying to one another,” Kerstetter said.
Yik Yak is an app designed to give users an anonymous experience with people nearby. People can post ‘yaks’ and other anonymous users can interact with their posts by commenting, upvoting, or downvoting.
Created in 2013, Yik Yak reached a net-worth of around $400 million. However, the app shut down in 2017 because of “a decrease in user engagement and growing criticism around the use of its platform for rampant cyberbullying and threats of bombs and shootings, which in some cases led to school evacuations and lockdowns,” according to Business Insider.
Square Inc. then purchased Yik Yak in 2017. They added new community guidelines to try and combat the violent threats and bullying that led to Yik Yak’s initial 2017 demise. The app has since grown in popularity again, particularly among college students.
Brian Masters, Dordt’s Computer Services System Administrator, is very wary about applications that claim to be ‘anonymous.’
“Certain applications have certain protection, but I’ve been around long enough to see them all fail,” Masters said. “[Data leaking is] not super common, but common enough for me to be careful.”
As students approach a time of starting their careers, what they post online can hold significance. What people say on Yik Yak, even though it claims to be anonymous, can easily be traced back to initial posters and shown to potential employers, Masters said.
Students often believe that what they say on Yik Yak can’t be connected to them — but that’s not the case. When making an account with Yik Yak, users are required to put in their phone numbers, which makes it very easy to track if subpoenaed — a process that Dordt uses when necessary, according to Robert Taylor, Dordt’s Vice President of Student Success and Dean of Students.
“When we have something concrete, we will look into it every time,” Taylor said.
Taylor points out that Yik Yak might own this data currently, but that they could sell it at any point.
“Anonymity is a myth,” Taylor said. “The ability to delete something is nearly impossible.”
Yik Yak does have potential to be used as a whistleblower opportunity or for mild and harmless comedy according to Taylor, but a problem arises when people begin laughing at other’s expense, making threats, and saying things that they don’t want to be associated with.
Erich Kregger, a freshman agriculture business major, feels as though people opposing Yik Yak are overreacting.
“The purpose of it is dumb – mostly jokes,” Kregger said. “If you wanna have it, have it. Don’t have it just for the purpose to take down posts.”
While he acknowledges that some of the posts including bullying go too far, he said that a lot of the posts are simply made for upvotes.
Kregger believes a potential contributing factor to Dordt student’s intense Yik Yak posts is that students are seeing how far they can push their boundaries after being under the rule of strict parents for their early lives.
Walker Cosgrove, one of Dordt’s history professors, has monitored Yik Yak since its return. Cosgrove said that although he would expect students to be “living slightly differently” when they are away from their parents for the first time, “Yik Yak goes much deeper than that.”
He said that a lot of the hate spread on Yik Yak is directed towards females and professors.
“There’s nothing Christian about what is put on Yik Yak,” Cosgrove said. “I expect that from a junior-high student who doesn’t know better.”
Aaron Baart, Dordt’s Chief of Staff and Dean of Chapel, said that students at Dordt need to ask themselves how they are a Christian user of this app.
“It’s a temptation to say the things that you should not be saying out loud,” Baart said. “There is no iron sharpening iron.”
Baart repeated that when people don’t have to sign their names to what they say, they don’t fully think through the implications of their words.
Beyond interactions between Dordt students, Baart is disappointed by prospective student’s experiences on the app and how current students interact with campus visitor’s questions.
“It’s like looking at the sewer system rather than the classrooms on a tour visit,” Baart said.
As Kerstetter stands next to her bed reading recent Yik Yak comments, her hand covers her mouth in shock. One such post read, “Sorry to any of your parents that saw me walking to my 10 a.m. high.”
“We’re better than that,” Kerstetter said. “It will never stop.”