Yik Yak: Bullying site or social ladder?

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Story by Taylor Inman, Staff writer

Yik Yak is a social media app that has been causing drama on campuses all across the country, according to The New York Times, which says it has been a source of abuse; but it’s also been known to bring campuses together. Murray State has been no exception to either.

Yik Yak operates mainly as an anonymous status posting site, made originally for college campuses only, but has expanded to include whatever “yaks” one can pick up within a five-mile radius.

Though it seems that Yik Yak has died down around Murray State, the opposite is true for bigger campuses that continue to deal with the drama that Yik Yak can bring, like Vanderbilt University or the University of Kentucky. Being able to say anything about anyone with no immediate repercussions is what Yik Yak can offer.

But to Javus Yandal, junior from Hickman, Kentucky, the drama isn’t always bad. He said this because most people don’t know him as Javus; they know him as “orange backpack guy”.

Yandal reached “Alex from Target” fame on a local level after he started working as a housing rover, where he carried around things in his orange backpack during his long, late night shifts.

“It started about a year ago last fall. I always used to work around Regents and White Colleges,” Yandal said. “For some reason, people were still up at this time and they would just talk to me while I worked. Nobody knew my name, but I always wore my orange backpack. I would walk in and they would call me ‘orange backpack guy.’”

After people started recognizing him on a daily basis, they started to talk about him on Yik Yak, where his fame grew.

But Yandal said the fame grew to an almost uncomfortable point after people started asking where he was on Yik Yak, then responding and posting his location publicly and anonymously. He didn’t even download the app until after his popularity skyrocketed.

“My friends would send me screenshots of Yik Yak that were all about me,” Yandal said. “It was freaky at first, but then it just got funny.”

Yandal has even had his fair share of Yik Yak criticism, saying people even start rumors about him. But he said he believes that the bullying potential of the app can be easily avoided.

“That’s just how the world is; all I can say is that if you don’t like it, just delete the app,” Yandal said. “That’s just as simple as when you downloaded the app to begin with.”

But sometimes the things posted on Yik Yak can’t be easily forgotten once the app is deleted.

When the Black Lives Matter movement started in 2014 after the death of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown, students and faculty at Murray State held a few protests for the cause and the reactions unearthed racism on campus.

Tori Story, who was a protester at one of the Black Lives Matter protests on campus, remembers when the controversy happened.

“We talked about it in class, the comments that were being made during and after the protests,” Story said. “I remember there was one saying ‘If you threw a bomb in the crowd, you’d get rid of most of the black people on campus’.”

The posts on Yik Yak generated a conversation about racism at Murray State, for which Story said the app can be used as a tool.

“I think it can facilitate movements against racism,” Story said. “It can help people be more honest about what they’re thinking.”

The app has also been a source of sexism, to the point where entire blogs have been dedicated to the ‘yaks’ that have been seen as misogynistic.

Abigail French, director of Murray State’s Women’s Center, said social media can be a place that facilitates sexism.

“Sexism, like most social justice issues, is a product of cultural acceptance of inequality. Social media (Yik Yak included) serves as a means by which our culture communicates what we accept and/or reject,” French wrote in an email. “People facilitate sexism using social media and apps, but it is the people we should hold accountable.”

French said the app can be a danger to women.

“Apps that are not monitored and regulated closely by the creators/developers of the apps can absolutely be abused and used as a means for harassment, bullying, shaming, etc,” French wrote.

But even with its negative effects, Yik Yak has been proven to be a healthy outlet for some students like Yandal, who said that the app helped him make friends.

“It got my name out there. When I first got here I was kind of a shy guy,” Yandal said. “It’s became an involuntary tool and a conversation starter. People I don’t know will say ‘Hey OBG.’ It just makes campus feel smaller.”