Dig Baton Rouge

The App of Anonymity

By Leonela Guzman

“How should I ask a girl to give me a footjob?” Far from the usual bar talk when you’ve had a few too many, such quips on the social media app Yik Yak is helping the app take over college campus conversations.

Yik Yak is best described Twitter meets Reddit. Like the former, it’s content is constant stream of consciousness,  with Reddit’s upvote-downvote feature for accruing “yaKarma” points. It’s all specifically tailored within a 1.5 mile radius of the user, or Yak, but the real catch? Absolute anonymity.

“With a lot of niche social apps coming out, everyone’s constantly focused on fleshing out specific parts of their identity online,” says James Casteel, assistant editor at Nickelodeon and LSU Manship School of Mass Communication alumnus. “Yik Yak is the counter to that.”

In Yak world, all inhibitions are lost as users freely post without accountability. Students commiserate over the usual: exams are sexually violating, campus food is orally violating, and any bathroom closures are a clear violation of human rights and decency. Blame it on youth and raging hormones, but the majority of posts frequently reference sex.

In a society that so deeply represses an open conversation on sex, hygiene, race, gender, and mental health, Yik Yak is providing an honest space. Virgins are asking for advice, men are testing conventional wisdom, and women are blunt about their body and their desires. From racial stereotypes to the effects of depression, it’s all free game.

Naturally, there is no middle ground in the Yik Yak universe. A woman expresses sexual desire – confidence defying set standards – and a supplementary patriarchal voice rears its ugly head to shut it down. She is usually degraded as a “thot”, a term frequently used to label promiscuity and disproportionately thrown at the female sex. A minority calls out the injustices of daily life, questions actions and reactions, and the bigotry bands together to suppress dissent and justify maltreatment.

The beast to the beauty of the anonymous social app steadily gaining popularity comes as no surprise. It is what, in part, drives the same foul contamination found within YouTube comments, beneath news articles, and throughout the darkest corners of the Internet – except Yik Yak requires no username. According to a study on the effect of anonymity on civility online by Arthur D. Santana, communications professor at the University of Houston, anonymity encourages incivility. Take one look at the stream during a college game day or a cultural showcase on Free Speech Alley, and it’s hard to argue the point.

Users are basically thrown into a group text. Interconnectivity has pushed us past “trying to figure out the Internet,” states Casteel. Anonymity, while disfiguring at times, is proved all the more encouraging as a community of strangers comes together to laugh, to complain, and to heckle together.

Students whine in unison over spotty WiFi and everyone in a certain spot with a certain outlook on life says, “Yeah!” Yik Yak is one of the few social apps to download that will actually have a lifespan longer than that of most hot on trend. Much like Miranda July’s recent app launch, “Somebody”, it utilizes social media to engage ourselves as strangers within close proximity except without clear direction to its purpose. It’s worth every yaKarma point to jump on and start a conversation locally, intimately, and anonymously.

We’ve evolved to adapt and modify technology to our daily lives and our social needs, and as is typical with most social apps, Yik Yak is above all a welcoming distraction guaranteed to entertain.

“When I’m sitting in class or in the quad, I like to see if people are talking about other people, and then I look around for that person,” says TJ Wright, LSU junior and criminology major. When asked whether she’d continue to use the app, she affirmed, “Absolutely. It keeps me entertained all day.”

 

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