“I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”
Since this post was directed to University of Missouri students on Tuesday, the anonymous, social media app, Yik Yak has been thrust into the national spotlight. With it, the Atlanta-based company has been catapulted to respond to concerns directed from organizations, universities and the public.
Founded in 2013, Yik Yak has grown in popularity among college students across the country due to its anonymous, location-based features. While students typically use it to share gripes, jokes and local news, it has come under attack as a breeding ground for the darker side of internet anonymity – bullying and hate speech.
“There’s a point where discussion can go too far,” said Brooks Buffington, Yik Yak Cofounder and COO, in a statement responding to the threats which he said are “upsetting and completely unacceptable.”
Yik Yak users can write and interact with content without usernames or other identification. Once an item is posted, the community can up-vote or down-vote comments to make them more or less popular in the app’s feed. Anonymity on Yik Yak has limitations, though, with Yik Yak and law enforcement watching for suspicious activity.
Response to Potential Danger
The two men responsible for the Yik Yak threats directed toward Mizzou students were arrested yesterday. Their information was given to police by Yik Yak, which is able to provide account information, IP addresses, geolocation logs, and other identifying data to help law enforcement identify those who share content with suggested criminal intent.
”You’re probably an awesome person but just know that Yik Yak and law enforcement take threats seriously,” reads the pop-up generated if someone attempts to post a message that contains threatening language. A notification box will also warn users when they attempt to share phone numbers or messages with specific keywords like “bomb.”
“Let’s not waste any words here: This sort of misbehavior is NOT what Yik Yak is to be used for. Period. It is not condoned by Yik Yak, and it violates our Terms of Service,” said Buffington.
“Tyler [Droll] and I created Yik Yak to let people connect with everyone around them, and it’s become a place where communities share news, crack jokes, ask questions, offer support, and build camaraderie. It’s also a place where communities can engage in open and honest conversation – and we love seeing discussion that is productive and thoughtful.”
The app is aged for 17-plus and contains geofencing scripts that block users from using the app near elementary, middle and high schools. Users who open the app in blocked areas see an error message telling them to relocate and try again. This feature helps restrict the potential cyberbullying of minors.
The leadership of Yik Yak are conscious of its challenges (likely more than ever after this week’s events): “Being a part of a herd means showing respect for one another, through our commonalities and our differences,” said Buffington. “There’s a saying that we always keep in mind on our team: With our thoughts we make the world. Let’s be sure we’re making a good world, starting with the communities around us.”
Yik Yak is ranked among the top 30 social media apps in the United States, according to analytics firm App Annie. It is valued between $200-400 million and has raised more than $73 million in funding. Its future is to be seen.