Launched in 2013, dead in 2017, the app Yik Yak has returned in 2021, allowing for anonymous conversation between users within five miles of each other.
Oklahoma Christian University and its policy regarding Yik Yak has made the news.
“Colleges and universities seem already to be on edge about the app’s return. Oklahoma Christian University has banned the app’s use on campus, citing cyberbullying, according to Oklahoma News 9,” wrote Shelby Brown in an article for cnet.com.
An interview with Oklahoma Christian’s Dean of Students, Neil Arter, provided some clarity on Oklahoma Christian’s policy and the email Arter sent to students on Aug. 30 regarding Yik Yak.
In Arter’s email it says, “No University resources are to be used to access such inappropriate and potentially illegal content.”
Arter defined ‘university resources’ as, “our Wi-Fi, computers that are owned by the university and labs.”
So long as those are not used, downloading and using Yik Yak in and of itself is not enough for repercussions.
“It’s more about the content they are posting,” Arter said. “Anything short of listing someone or a group by name and calling them out for things that really are not appropriate to discuss in a public setting – everything but that is good to go.”
According to Carson Towns, a student at Oklahoma Christian, most of Yik Yak’s content is humor.
“It’s all funny stuff,” Towns said. “No one’s asking serious questions on there.”
Setting aside the current content’s tone, Yik Yak can be a real danger, as it was before shutting down in 2017.
According to a 2015 article on Vox.com, “It’s been used for shooting threats at Fresno State, Charleston Southern University, the University of North Carolina, Michigan State, Penn State, Florida Atlantic University, Widener University, and Towson University; rape threats at Mary Washington University and Kenyon College; and racist messages at Clemson University and American University, among others.”
Arter’s email makes it clear that Oklahoma Christian will not stand for that on its campus.
The email says, “The University will not tolerate comments that are racially insensitive, sexist, bullying, violent or discriminatory in any way.”
When asked how Oklahoma Christian would respond if one of these labels can be reasonably applied to something a student puts on Yik Yak, Arter said, “We’re going to use the full measure of our handbook as it applies to that [situation]… The thing is that it’s anonymous until someone crosses the line, and if it breaks a law, then the police will get a warrant for the IP address for the phone, computer, whatever.”
Arter encourages students to report any such content.
“I would just encourage students to reach out to any faculty and staff that they know, and they’ll get it to me,” Arter said. “[Students can also] call campus police, or they can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Part of Yik Yak’s problem with cyberbullying may come from its anonymity feature.
“When people believe that they’re anonymous, it seems to be liberating in not-so-good ways. People will say more cruel things than they would if their name was known,” Jonathan Miller said. Miller is an associate professor of psychology and family science at Oklahoma Christian.
This kind of content and cyberbullying seems to be cyclical.
“Most of our bullies have been bullied,” Miller said.
If you have been bullied, you do not have to go through it alone.
“If you’re being bullied there’s help out there – go see your friends, the counseling center, report it to your RA’s, faculty members, the student life – you don’t have to just bear it,” Miller said.
Arter, when asked what he intended to result from his email, said something similar.
“One [hope] is that people who are being harassed will know that we’re with them,” Arter said. And that people… will maybe go out of their way to support those people.”
Arter also said, “And, finally, sometimes when people say things about others…. Sometimes it’s a person who’s not really a jerk, but they just get caught up in a moment. And I hope that my communication might reach the person caught up in the moment.”