The Hidden Power of Yik Yak

“You know you’re in
college when you stop thinking vodka smells like hand sanitizer and instead
think hand sanitizer smells like vodka.”

It quickly becomes apparent that Yik Yak is a pile of turds.
The “Hot” list is rife with all the typical complaints and musings of a colony
of 20-year-olds: sexual frustration, squirrels, midterms, gastrointestinal
issues, etc.

What is Yik Yak? If you’re not already yakking, it’s an
app-based (semi-) social media platform where users can write a short note—much
like a tweet—and it is broadcast anonymously to the geographic community of the

It’s an app perfectly designed for college campuses.

Other users can choose to upvote, downvote or comment on
all the yaks from the Claremont Colleges. The “Hot” list showcases the yaks
with the most upvotes. Successful yaks earn you “yakarma” points.

It’s well-designed. It has the brevity of Twitter, the
anonymity of Reddit and the collegiate focus of early Facebook. Above all, it’s
an opportunity to show off your capacity for wit. Some are chuckle-worthy:

“Today I got back to
my room after two consecutive all-nighters, took my bra off, farted, and
started crying. It’s been that kind of week.”

Others are just stupid, but relatable:

“All I want is Pizza,
sex and Netflix
.” (What’s new?)

But occasionally something will surprise me. Occasionally users
encounter a yak that climbs the list because it goes beyond cute humor. Yaks
can take the form of important and deeply personal social commentary.

“Full disclosure: I’ve
had plastic surgery. Don’t listen to all the bullshit—if it’s going to make YOU
feel better about yourself and isn’t just because you feel like others judge
you, do it.”

That opinion is controversial, especially on these campuses.
Physical alteration is the kind of subject that students probably only hear one
side of; to express support for it is almost social taboo—admitting to it is
unthinkable. Given an anonymous platform, however, a couple of hundred Yik Yak
users can boost it to the top. Each one saying, “Hey, I agree.”

“5C hookup culture:
where holding hands is more serious than having sex.”

It’s not just social commentary. A college administrator
could learn a lot about our impressions of campus life from Yik Yak:

“WebMD: more helpful
than Student Health Services.”

But why is this app any better than the previous iterations
of the same thing? The anonymous Claremont Confessions Facebook page, the
comments section of a campus news publication (oligarchy!) or a bathroom stall
could serve the same purpose.

First, opinions that are undeniably hateful end up getting
voted into nonexistence.  

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the anonymous conduct of
the Claremont community. The misogynist, racist or bullying comments don’t
tend to last. The groups that seem to attract a fair amount of consistently
negative attention are the football teams (I’m really not too broken up about
that, though). The app’s support also does a fairly good job of removing posts
that mention people by name.

Second, it forces posters to be brief. There are no 200-word
diatribes against the superficiality of dining hall interactions, invoking Foucault.

Third, there’s limited incentive to reply, meaning pointless
spirals of outrage and trolling by the vocal minority are not entertained.

Yik Yak seems to be yet another variation on a theme that
has been an important part of youth culture since the beginning of social
media: the anonymous forum. Think back to PostSecret, or those anonymous
question apps you could link to your Myspace or Tumblr, or even Chatroulette.
What they share is the freedom of anonymity.

But why?

This is probably a question best left to psychoanalysts.
I’ll try anyway. We enjoy the affirmation of our witty yaks receiving attention
from strangers, with no risk of being seen making a bad joke. On a darker note,
we enjoy that devious feeling of being mean without appearing mean. Then again,
maybe it just makes us feel less alone and closer to our community to know that
other people are struggling with relationships, with midterms, with identity,
with “The decision of
wanting a six pack or a six pack,
 or “What if Netflix was a
dating service? Like, ‘you know who else has watched 5 straight hours of House
of Cards? These 4 singles in your area.”

Yik Yak is full of crap. It’s probably a waste of time. But
I enjoy it for what it is. It’s an opportunity to find comfort in the shared
experiences of our community and understand the diversity of closely held opinions
here in Claremont.

It might be too much to ask, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more
controversial and unpopular opinions. Your Yak may just fizzle in the shadow of
an exceptionally clever gripe about the plight of having friends that are
hotter than you, or it might be silently shared by others in the Claremont
community. Your Yak might just start a conversation and change somebody’s

Sam Pitcavage CM ’15 is a government and economics major, athlete and dining hall enthusiast from Beaverton, Ore.

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