Down voting Yik Yak

LANCE LIJEWSKI | Evergreen reporter

According to student-led groups and organizations such as Wake Up WSU, ASWSU and the Panhellenic Council, anonymous social media platforms are toxic to the well-being of every student on Washington State University’s campus.

Allegations from Wake Up WSU suggested Yik Yak is a major cause of recent tensions, and must be banned from campus.

Yik Yak, a social media app that allows its users to post anonymously, was released to the public and marketed on college campuses across the nation Nov. 6, 2013, said Cam Mullen, Yik Yak’s lead communication developer.

“Yik Yak’s purpose was to serve as a local bulletin board for schools,” he said. “Yik Yak creates this community where you’re connected with everyone in a two mile radius and can have conversations not usually had on Facebook and Twitter.”

In spite of this, misuse of the app has caused problems on campuses all over the nation. WSU has not been excluded from this with a recent flux of posts targeting Greek life and under-represented groups.

In response to these posts, the Panhellenic Council started a campaign Oct. 12, 2014 against the application, titled “#releasetheyak.”

On March 4, 2015, ASWSU encouraged the entire WSU student body to follow the council’s lead. On March 12, the student-led social justice movement Wake Up WSU followed suit with a request to WSU President Elson Floyd for Yik Yak to be banned across campus.

A seven-point memorandum was released by Floyd on March 27, but no motion was made to act on this request. While Floyd may not be capable of banning the app on campus, these student groups and organizations are determined to continue taking charge in the campus-wide move to stomp out Yik Yak’s presence.

ASWSU President Jared Powell and Vice President Jansen VanderMeulen are strong supporters of free speech, but they said Yik Yak itself is something that should not be tolerated in the WSU community.

“Pullman is a tight-knit community,” Powell said. “A lot of people take community seriously. If this is true about us, we should not let our community be torn down by this app.”

Both leaders requested their entire staff delete the app from their phones. As for the entire student body, they have simply encouraged anyone offended by the apps negative effects to follow their lead.

Any community member who wants to keep the app is encouraged to take advantage of Yik Yak’s voting and reporting features. Up votes and down votes filter what content is viewed by the public. The more a post is voted up, the more views it gets on WSU’s feed. The more a post is voted down, the less it is viewed.

If a post is interpreted as offensive, it can be reported as such in the upper right-hand corner, Mullen said. Three to four reports get a post removed and sent directly to Yik Yak’s team of moderators located at their headquarters. Additionally, Yik Yak has begun to set up filters that screen for natural words which may be deemed offensive or misused.

The Panhellenic Council, which started the local anti-Yik Yak movement, appreciates the ability to police content but does not believe these features are good enough.

“There is no responsibility for what you say on Yik Yak, and that is not something to be supported,” current Panhellenic President Taylor Christensen emailed on behalf of the entire council. “The popularity of the app thrives upon the students’ use, and if we are not there to feed into the negativity, it can be greatly decreased. The ideal would be for Yik Yak not to exist on our campus, but encouraging students not to use it is a great first step.”

The council acknowledges that community members have the option to mediate content but does not believe there is enough positive momentum to be gained. Mullen believes the exact opposite.

“Tight-knit communities will look out for each other,” he said. “It’s a matter of learning how to down vote and report.”

To support this, Mullen gave examples of stories their marketing team heard while touring campuses across the nation. Couples have met and set up blind dates through the app. Individuals have lost and found sentimental objects through the app. People who have broken down or become stranded off campus have been helped out and philanthropic events have been promoted, among other things.

“As Yik Yak grows the content is going to get better,” he said.

Clearly, campus groups and organizations are skeptical. They said they refuse to step down.

“It is very encouraging seeing other organizations such as ASWSU and Wake Up WSU also supporting the end of Yik Yak on this campus,” Christensen emailed. “Although it may not be possible to completely ‘ban’ the app from our campus, we would love to see more efforts of discouraging the use of the app.”

ASWSU supports the Panhellenic Council’s statements. Wake Up WSU could not be reached for comments. Yik Yak will continue to support its application while developing features to protect users.