My second year at Elizabethtown College came with a lot of new experiences, but I think one of the most memorable ones was an app called Yik Yak. It wasn’t a good or bad memory per se, but more of a cautionary tale. Something to talk about when I meet up with fellow students after graduation.
When I first got the app, it was in its most basic stages. It was ultimately an anonymous app that let people in your area make comments on whatever they wanted. Some people would complain about midterms and certain professors after an exam. Others would use it to post puns and okay jokes.
Many started using it to call out people they thought were attractive, vague descriptions of “Girl in the pink sweatshirt and beanie at the Blue Bean: You’re cute” posted over and over again. While some of these things could become annoying, it was never a big deal. People could like a post if they agreed or comment if they wanted to add something profound, like “haha.”
However, children given free range to say whatever they like will most always abuse that power, and that’s what the students of Etown did. People were calling out roommates and friends, vague hate posts that turned into some seriously disturbing discussions about race or gender. It got to the point where the school had to get involved, issuing a statement in an email letting students know that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but after that the app seemed to die. From people simply tired of the anonymous fighting to feeling paranoid that Campus Security was reading every post (looking at you anonymous “throwing down at Alley tonight” poster) students seemed to just lose interest.
I myself deleted the app before the summer, but got it again junior year to see where it was at. It appeared to have returned to its normal state, the now interesting comments dotted with red canoes and yellow socks to indicate repeat users. Apparently, this was supposed to help people hold a conversation, but other than posting vague initials and half-hearted “We should meet up” comments, there wasn’t really anything pushing Yik Yak toward any kind of greatness.
Flash forward to my senior year and I find myself once again downloading the app, the spinning yak head not something I’d ever really missed. Once you log in you have to claim a handle—a standard practice for most apps nowadays, even if posts are anonymous. However, you have the ability to leave your handle visible when you post or leave a comment.
This perplexed me, until I realized I now had my own profile as well. I could post a profile picture and give myself a bio, allowing me to connect with other users. There’s even an added private messenger system where other people can request to chat with you. You have to accept, and it comes with a safety option to delete or block any chat.
However, this private chatting and profiles makes the anonymous appeal of Yik Yak almost obsolete, and honestly feels like a weird mix between Twitter and Tinder, perhaps throwing in a little Instagram with the growing number of pictures. I’ve had the app for two days and have received at least three immediate private messages asking me how I am and if I wanted to hang out. Um, no thank you.
I realized rather quickly that these people didn’t even go to Etown, which confused me most of all. No longer were you able to choose your school or take a peek at other schools. It seems the app just bases itself off of your GPS, and it seems Etown is just too small of a campus to really pop up on the radar. A rather important and large turn-off as it’s really not fun to scroll through complaints and references you can’t even understand.
In my opinion, a rather negative but alluring effect of Yik Yak was the ability to hate anonymously and leave admins unable to really do anything about it. It was honestly a great way to complain about people without them knowing while still hoping they might come across the post and realize it’s about them and feel bad. Long gone are the days of complimenting random people and sharing exam related puns. Yik Yak used to bring students together, for however small and brief that moment was, but that solidarity has been exchanged for cheap add-ons and a real lack of direction within the app itself.
I honestly feel like because of the backlash from the school, students seem hesitant to get back onto Yik Yak. It just affirms a real lack of trust on campus and the app ultimately paid the price. Maybe it will make a comeback one day, but for now it simply falls into the pile of useless apps long forgotten on everyone’s ever growing download list.