Currently being said around UW-Madison via the anonymous app “Yik Yak:” “Dear Gordon’s. I ordered my food two hours ago. Wtf,” “So much guac and no one to share it with…,” and “With the anonymity of this app I expected a lot more weirdos on here but…Nope, just me.”
With the growing popularity of anonymous mobile apps like “Yik Yak,” which allows users to post comments anonymously within the application for others in the nearby area to read, college students nationwide are tuning in to what’s being said on their campus, while also condemning issues of cyberbullying stemming from the app’s anonymity.
While Yik Yak activity at the University of Wisconsin has not become troublesome enough to warrant any response from officials, it is not the case at other institutions such as Clemson University, where, in response to concerns over racial insensitivity, the administration is considering a ban on the app, according to The Tiger News, Clemson’s student newspaper.
Marc Lovicott, the public information officer at UW, does not currently notice issues on campus arising from the app’s use.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a problem,” Lovicott said. “I think anytime you have apps pop up like Yik Yak that promote anonymity and you [acknowledge] the fact that somebody may do bad things with it or a crime may occur with it, that’s always an issue. But it is a challenge for law enforcement to keep up with a lot of the [anonymous] apps that pop up there.”
While Lovicott said UWPD has not worked with Yik Yak to investigate crimes occurring specifically on the campus, he revealed that UWPD investigators do use it as a way to piece together evidence in broader investigations, he said.
Regarding the possibility of ever banning such an app on campus, Lovicott thought it to be unlikely.
“I think it would be really tough to do something like that,” he said.
Lovicott said if serious issues arise with the use of anonymous apps, UWPD is there to help. He said UWPD keeps relationships with various technology companies, such as Yik Yak, that work with campus investigators in cases that require it. If a student feels threatened or bullied online, UWPD wants to know, he said.
While individual cases have yet to become an issue, the use of Yik Yak has caused frustration and offense among students, especially within the Greek community during the spring of 2014, according to a UW sophomore who is member of a campus sorority, who asked to remain anonymous.
She said Yik Yak became very popular among members of the Greek community last year. Unfortunately, she said Yik Yak users were putting down certain sororities and fraternities on campus. The negative comments continued throughout the spring and summer, but finally simmered down this fall, she said.
“I feel like it is really an outlet for people in the sorority system to make themselves feel better about what sorority they are in by putting down other ones,” she said. “It was very disheartening. We’d go to chapter and hear girls talking about what people said [about us on Yik Yak].”
She said the anonymity of the app caused people to write comments that are far more offensive than on other sites. “No one would ever tweet out or Facebook post the stuff they said on Yik Yak,” she said.
According to Greg Markman, the UW campus representative for Yik Yak, the app has also seen instances of positivity and students coming to each other’s aid.
In one recent instance Yik Yak at UW, a student posted about their struggle with depression and asked users for advice on where to seek help, Markman cited. Users responded by referring them to UHS counseling, and commented, “Stay strong, there are people who are here for you,” and “Yak has got your back.”
“Yik Yak does a lot to make sure cyberbullying doesn’t go on. They take it very seriously,” Markman said.