Samantha Ewing ’23 (she/her)
Last seen in 2017, the app Yik Yak is back and more prevalent than ever among the student body at Davidson. Starting in August, the main topic of conversation I heard amongst my peers revolved around posts on the app. Phrases like “What’s your Yak Karma?” and “Go upvote my Yak!” have been echoing between tables at Commons, outside Chambers, and around the Union building. As entertaining as the content may be, the notion of an anonymous internet platform also introduces a substantial avenue for harm. As members of the Davidson campus community, it’s important that we reflect on the consequences of the app that has assumed such an active role in campus life.
I want to start by acknowledging that a lot of Yik Yak’s content is not harmful, and I don’t believe the app should be dismissed as a whole. From posts about missing Union quesadillas to comments about the bear on the cross-country trails, Yik Yak has undoubtedly given students an outlet to build community over funny and relatable content. There’s a lot of merit in fostering an environment to revel in shared experiences, especially as we try to transition from a time of isolation back to a sense of normalcy and community. However, the anonymity of the app has also introduced an outlet for students to create needlessly hurtful posts—it’s easy to say ugly things when you can’t be held accountable. I think it’s important that we step back and recognize how this dynamic impacts not only those targeted, but also the Davidson community as a whole.
Every student on campus has experienced a degree of isolation and loss at some point throughout the last year and a half. This semester in itself has come with its own tribulations, and it’s impossible to know what someone is going through away from the public eye. By aiming malicious comments on Yik Yak at one person, you are hurting someone in a way that you don’t comprehend. Not only is the targeted person being ridiculed one way or another; there is an additional element of public embarrassment. Once something is posted, it can’t be undone; even if a comment is downvoted and deleted shortly after, it cannot be erased from the memories of those that saw it. Especially now, we need to be more compassionate towards our peers. At the end of the day, the fleeting sensation of making the “hot” board for a day will never be worth the impact of mean comments on Yik Yak.
Apart from these individual instances, the Davidson community also suffers as a whole from negativity on the app. One of the most advertised aspects of the Davidson experience is our small and supposedly caring community as it might offer a unique opportunity for growth and close relationships. Yet even with the pandemic eating away at our college years, we have found a way to further ostracize our peers and drive our community apart. There’s a lot to be said about how an app is being used when even people who have not been targeted fear that one day they will open the app and see their own name at the top. As a student body, we are capable of recognizing and rejecting this trend. It’s encouraging to see that many students have already taken a stand against those who are attacking others behind the protection of a screen. With so many people going through a difficult time, this internet slander is the last thing our community needs.
Yik Yak doesn’t have to be destructive. Coupled with the app’s potential for harm is its potential for good, which is why I hope we can shift the focus toward how the app can be beneficial. We can unlearn problematic patterns and decide not to make posts targeting our peers. We can upvote good-spirited comments and downvote hurtful posts when they do appear. We can embrace the element of community-building and recognize that our words can have lasting impacts on our peers. As members of the Davidson community, I hope we can strive to use this platform to bring our community together rather than drive people apart.