Popular app allows for anonymous posts

Between classes, students are refreshing their phones to read the latest posts on the new social media app, Yik Yak. This forum site allows users to post anonymously about topics like residential life and “Freshman Tips (Definitely Not Fake),” a series of jokes about being first-year students at the University of Miami.

Yik Yak displays posts based on location and shows updates from within a five-mile radius of the user. The fifth most popular free app downloaded in the Apple App Store is the brainchild of Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, who are both graduates of Furman University in South Carolina.

Since the app was launched in November 2013, the app has gained popularity with young users, and UM students are no exception. According to its founders, the app has 1,321 active users in Coral Gables as of Monday.

Part of Yik Yak’s appeal is that students like sophomore Sebastian Faerman can read about their fellow students’ thoughts.

“Yik Yak shows you what people really think because it’s anonymous and nobody holds back,” he said.

Sophomore Evan Darpini believes Yik Yak is mostly for entertainment. In the UM forum, football games are a popular topic. Yik Yak users express their school spirit, though often the posts are incendiary. “Just remember you vacation where we live” is an example of a post in UM’s five-mile radius in response to the upcoming University of Nebraska football game Saturday.

Ricardo Hall, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students, has glanced through the app before. He outlined the three things he’s noticed about UM users on Yik Yak in an email statement.

First, he pointed out the humorous quality of many of the posts, saying that some are “pretty clever,” while others rely on “vulgar or immature language.” He also addressed some of the trending topics UM students favor.

“Secure Canes woes/8 a.m. classes/dining habits/bodily functions seem to be shared experiences to which all students can relate and don’t hesitate to provide commentary,” he said.

The final thing he mentioned was the opportunity the app provides for honesty.

“ … the anonymity of Yik Yak allows some of the posters to be vulnerable, commenting on things like dating, relationships, roommate problems, finding friends, and the various difficulties associated with transitioning to college,” he said.

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Jan Hendrik Boehmer, assistant professor of new media in the Department of Journalism & Media Management, had a similar sentiment.

“Individuals usually open up more in anonymous settings, allowing shy individuals to speak up and have great discussions that are more intense and effective …” he said.

However, Boehmer, who teaches a course on social media for journalists, also recognized that the power of anonymity can be abused.

“We’ve already seen cases of cyber-bullying and bomb threats through Yik Yak,” Boehmer said, referencing the 15-year-old teen in Long Island who posted a bomb threat using the app.

Boehmer explained that the founders have addressed these concerns and updated the app in response by geo-blocking it from schools and making it age sensitive. In the Apple App Store, Yik Yak is rated for people who are 17 and older.

Student Government (SG) President Alessandria San Roman sees the app as something that should be used with caution.

“While I think it has potential to be a useful tool to get a better sense of the general campus climate, I can also see how it could be detrimental or hurtful if any comments got out of hand,” she said. “Regardless of how it’s used, I think it’s best to be respectful and think twice before ‘yaking.’ You never know how it may affect someone else.”

Hall hopes to see students using the app as a starting point for in-person conversation.

“I think it would be great to see campus forums, programs or activities spring from Yik Yak topics,” Hall said.  “Even more, I think it is an excellent learning experience when students move from being anonymous voices to principled and better informed participants in conversations around issues that affect them and their peers.”