Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Fade. In this day and age there are so many different websites and apps that people can access to post their every thought. Some are tied to identities, while others have the potential to be completely anonymous. This can be both a good and bad thing. If a person is embarrassed to ask a question or admit something, they can do so anonymously and get the answers they need. However, the anonymity provided by these kinds of social media allows people to make unkind statements without putting their name on them.
I remember back in high school many of my teachers made a big deal out of cyberbullying. They said kids today are able to be more hurtful towards one another via technology, since it is easy to say such things to another person while “hiding behind a computer screen,” a phrase that popped up a lot in these discussions. While social media is no longer limited to the computer, the principle remains the same.
Prior to Easter break, Elizabethtown College’s Yik Yak was filled with posts that were described as a “highly inflammatory exchange” of “comments rang[ing] from derogatory statements to threats of personal violence towards transgender, non-gender conforming, lesbian, gay and bisexual students,” in an email sent to students on behalf of Dean of Students Marianne Calenda. Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app which allows one to post a 200 character statement, a “yak,” which anyone in a 10-mile radius is able to see.
Other people are able to respond, also anonymously, to the “yak,” as well as either “upvote” or “downvote” the message. If a post reaches -5 votes, it is permanently deleted, and the rest are only visible for approximately 24 hours, unless they become famous by receiving many upvotes.
The “yaks” posted on March 31 were verbally abusive towards members of the LGBTQ community. Many of the offensive messages were being “downvoted,” reported, deleted or had a comment war occurring.
Because the “yaks” are only available for a certain amount of time, and many were being deleted, many people, including myself, did not see the original posts. Senior Randall Martin also did not see the comments himself, but heard about them from others who had. “I think that it’s not right that people can say those kinds of things to another person. People are people, no matter what,” Martin said.
“I’m actually bi, so in a way, it scared me. If I weren’t in a heterosexual relationship, how would the campus view me? The slurs and the threats of violence really did scare me. I couldn’t sleep because of the what-ifs going on in my head. Not to mention there were hate crimes that went on close to three years ago now on campus,” a student who wishes to remain anonymous said.
In a matter of hours, many of these posts were replaced by positive messages showing support for the LGBTQ community. There were, however, a few comments that said those defending “the gays” were “part of the problem.” More still were the posts containing “#Iwearpurple because..,” due to the fact that purple represents spirit on the rainbow flag. But even among these, there were some posts that continued to mock those showing their support.
“The student responses had me pretty divided,” sophomore Mary Sloan said. “Some were great examples of human kindness and willingness to help complete strangers, while others pointed to just how far from equality and tolerance we really are as a society.”
Other colleges and universities have had trouble with racist, homophobic and misogynistic posts on Yik Yak, and several are considering having Yik Yak removed from their campus altogether by the use of a “geo-fence,” which will potentially make the app unusable within a certain latitude and longitude, according to an article published last month by the New York Times. As for the administration at Etown, in response to this incident, an email was sent to the student body explaining the situation and urging students to review the Title IX non-discrimination policy and reminding that the school offers counseling services and campus security escorts for those feeling upset or unsafe.
“I just wish that the school had a better policy on social injustices in general,” sophomore Tamantha Drexel said. It is difficult to conduct an investigation, seeing as Yik Yak is anonymous, but Drexel suggests that perhaps Etown should have a campus-wide seminar on either Title IX or peace and conflict resolution. “This is a place of learning, so educate. Educate on what harassment is, educate on what sexuality is, what gender is, etc. There are certain things in society that need to be learned outside of an ethics class or a gender studies class. Otherwise, no one will learn about it,” Drexel said.