Some yaks should no longer be anonymous
Talking Back to the Yakity Yak
Timehop plays an important role in our digitally-driven lives. Not only is it a great archivist for "#tbts" and "#TransformationTuesdays," but it serves as our unofficial watchdog. The app haunts us with dozens of "Posts of Facebook Past." Perhaps you forgot about status-ing emotional Taking Back Sunday lyrics accompanied by tildes and less than threes or "prof pic’ing" a selfie of you wearing a sideways snapback. Timehop doesn’t. Still, the daily cringes that Timehop inspires serve as important reminders that we must use social media responsibly. I’m more inclined to tell myself, “Alex, is kissing a bottle of Patron an appropriate pose for a picture that may go on Instagram? I doubt the career-driven, family-focused Alex of the future will approve.”
Yet, now that Yik Yak has introduced anonymity into the social media mix, precaution and consideration have become irrelevant. When used appropriately, the results are fantastic. If someone tweeted, “Just thought my deodorant was chapstick and rubbed it all over my lips. Hangovers are a real thing people,” I’d assume they don’t have the greatest sense of personal integrity. But this silly confession found its home on Rutgers YikYak, and the poster is able to share a relatable blunder without the consequences of being publicly associated with it. More notably, Yik Yak can function as a safe and open space for students to critique local structures of power. We may laugh when reading Yaks that compare Olde Queens to Barchi’s villainous lair, but Yakking about University issues in a light-hearted, humorous way can give important criticisms mass appeal.
Nonetheless, both locally and nationally, anonymity has proven to be more a problematic, less productive feature of Yik Yak. As The New York Times reported yesterday, the app “has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses. Racist, homophobic and misogynist "yaks" have generated controversy at many more. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center. The article goes on to point out that while the Internet acquaints us with millions of anonymous trolls, Yik Yak’s hyper-local dimension brings the aggression closer to home. Rutgers itself has seen a few days when the air was thick with aggression, and no one will ever be held accountable for breeding it. Five years from now, Timehop won’t remind certain members of greek life that they used Yik Yak as a space to bully those in “bottom tier” fraternities and sororities. Five years from now, Timehop won’t remind certain Yakkers that they compared black people to monkeys during a #BlackLivesMatter demonstration on Livingston. It’s time to bring a sense of permanence and accountability for using Yik Yak as a platform for dickheadedness. This column doesn’t have the grandiose expectations of preventing harmful Yaks or inspiring atonement among hateful Yakkers. I simply hope to give kudos to some Yaks, start conversations about others and have the worst of the worst rot forever in Targum’s digital archives rather than disappear into the Yak’s furry abyss.
The other day, someone Yakked, “There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind of people who talk about the dress and then there’s the kind who talk about people who talk about the dress.” There are also two types of people who Yak about race: The kind of people who have authentic, sometimes amusing experiences to share, and the kind of people that find humor in hackneyed stereotypes. I understand that I’m about as white as a polar bear’s buttcheek, and to some of you, reading my commentary might parallel a disturbing visual of Taylor Swift twerking in “Shake It Off.” Bear with me. It’s Yaks like “Wow unbelievable. Some black ice just snuck up on me and practically robbed me of my balance,” and “They shoveled all the snow but not the black ice #BlackIceMatters” that need to stop. We all know that “black ice” sounds like “black guys” — haha, lol, roflcopter. But is it necessary to trivialize an important social movement or isolate a population on campus for a few upvotes? Key & Peele made a skit about “the threat ‘black ice’” in 2013, and I doubt you’ll come up with anything funnier.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be checking in on Yik Yak to fish for new content. If you, dear reader, happen to notice any Yaks that are particularly hilarious, strange or inflammatory, feel free to send a screenshot to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, have fun riding the yak, but ride responsibly.
Alexandra R. Meier is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in anthropology. She is a former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Targum. Her column “Talking Back to the Yakity Yak,” runs monthly on Thursdays.