On Aug. 22, Yik Yak released an update that added a photo and video feature, which was met with concern from UMW students who use the app. The concern is that sensitive and unwelcome images and videos of individuals will become available for the public, having a negative effect on the community and creating an issue beyond the university’s control. Not only should the feature be removed, but more moderation should also be put in place to avoid harming reputations and make the app a safer space for everyone.
Though there is a feature that automatically removes posts or comments if it receives five downvotes, active human moderation of the posts or a smarter AI system that recognizes harmful comments and media would benefit the app.
“I think it could be funny, but it could also be bad, because what if people post stuff without consent?” said Grace Stewart, a sophomore biomedical sciences major.
Sophia Hackett, a sophomore history major, shared a similar sentiment.
“I don’t really understand the point of it [the update], as it [Yik Yak] has always been for short messages, and I think it could easily lead to people abusing it and adding problematic content. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a d**k pic yet.”
It’s fair to assume that most people stand by the right to free speech and being able to say what they want; however, there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. College campuses are like a giant game of telephone: information gets passed on from person to person, becoming more convoluted as it spreads. On Yik Yak, this game has a wider reach, and the untrue information that evolves out of miscommunication and retellings becomes digital. As a result, gossip that has the potential to do serious damage to someone’s academic, social and mental well-being becomes common in the public sphere.
YikYak has gained popularity in college towns, and UMW is certainly no exception. The app often serves as a place for gathering information, such as campus events, underground happenings, parties or general gossip.
While she said she only uses Yik Yak for fun, Hackett said, “It’s also useful to check in on what’s going on around campus and to see people’s opinions on campus life, events, the weather, etc.”
However, the main appeal of apps like Yik Yak is the anonymity they offer; people can become completely different online than in the real world.
Just recently, users in the UMW community could see an anonymous person advertising where to get alcohol around campus without an ID. While scrolling through the app, Hackett saw a post stating, “Welcome freshmen, the abc store on William street doesn’t card.”
While college students have the freedom to do what they want, it is harmful to promote illegal or dangerous behavior to such large groups of people.
In any online space, there’s always a risk of personal information being seen, and there are very few ways to get it removed. It can even affect your ability to get a job.
“Job seekers should be conscious of the content they are releasing,” according to the website SciSpeak, a technology training brand for employees. “What happens on social media lives FOREVER.”
This means that sensitive photos or videos of an individual, even posted anonymously by someone else, can impact their ability to get a job.
Online moderation has become a hot topic in the past few years as the internet has become a place for everyone to share their opinions. Unfortunately, social media moderation does not always stop people from posting harmful content.
The Yik Yak community guardrails urge users to “always ask permission” and say that moderators review any post that has been reported. This is not enough moderation, however. Yik Yak already allows people to post harmful content, and the addition of photo and video content on an anonymous app will only increase harmful activity to others’ reputations in the community.