Yik Yak, a toxic social network that shut down four years ago, is sort of making a comeback

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Maybe not a good thing.

Screenshot by CNET

Yik Yak, a controversial social media app focused on anonymous local posts, announced his return August 16. But the app, which fell into obscurity four years ago amid ties to everything from bomb threats to sexual harassment, returns to a time when social media is in a different place – a much more toxic place.

The app, developed by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, experienced a growth spurt in 2014, when it was valued at $ 400 million. Its popularity was in part due to Yik Yak’s innovative approach which allowed users to create, post and comment on discussion threads anonymously with other users within a 5 mile radius. Like Reddit, users could vote for or against the content.

But as we’ve seen with other social media sites, Yik Yak quickly went to a dark place. The New York Times reported Yik Yak’s Short First Life, filled with bodily shame, racist content, sexual harassment and threats of gun violence and murder. Several schools have banned the app, according to USA Today, which brought down Yik Yak’s popularity and ultimately led to his formwork, in 2017.

No social media platform is without its seedy corners, many of which have become more seedy, with people spending more time online during the pandemic. Facebook and Instagram deleted over a million content during the last three months of 2020 containing disinformation about COVID-19. False conspiracy theories that spread on these platforms powered the Capitol socket on January 6 as rioters challenged President Joe Biden’s confirmation. Social media companies, meanwhile, have struggled to contain racist attacks and disinformation as they try to strike a balance between controlling content and allowing free speech.

It’s inside this environment that Yik Yak wants to stage his comeback.

CNET has contacted Yik Yak for comment several times but has not received a response.

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Yik Yak announced his return on August 16.

Screenshot by CNET

From Yik Yak’s website, the platform has been under new management since February of this year. The app has been absent for four years, but that doesn’t mean the social network has solved the issues that led to the previous controversies. Indeed, its anonymous and local catchphrase can take all of today’s worst social media elements and amplify them.

During registration, Yik Yak asks for your phone number, but you are not required to enter a username. Under its new owners, it still looks like a minimalist version of Reddit, with upvote and downvote options for content, as well as comment and share features. The app doesn’t display any identifying information, but it shows approximately how far away the user who posted is from you, as well as when that user has posted. Messages have a 200 character limit so far; it is not known if this will change in the future.

You can’t “tag” people like you would on other social media sites, and before posting, a little message pops up reminding you not to use anyone’s real name. But much of Yik Yak’s community safeguards rest on the integrity of the user.

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Yik Yak is an anonymous social network that connects users within a 5 mile radius.

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

If someone posts a threatening, offensive or hateful “Yak”, the name of the application for discussion threads, about you, it is from someone within five miles of you (the application calls this group your “herd”), according to Yik Yak’s description of the mechanics of the service. This means it could be from someone you know, go to school with, work with, or see frequently. The thought is unsettling and creates the potential to send the recipient into a spiral of paranoid and anxious panic, challenging relationships with family, friends, even strangers. After posting such a post, the negatively mentioned user can only hope for enough negative votes or personally report the Yak.

When the app was shut down in 2017, The Times reported that Yik Yak offered few solutions to prevent racist, sexist, aggressive or threatening posts. The community-monitored app would remove posts that received a certain number of negative votes or negative comments. Yik Yak was reportedly caught voting systematically against mentions of competitors, which questioned the reliability of its content removal procedures in more serious situations.

Yik Yak’s relaunched website features colorful, emoji-speckled links to sections titled Community Guardrails, Mental Health Resources, and Stay Safe Resources. The Community Guardrails section, however, explains that the negative vote suppression system is still in place.

“If you see a yak that does not vibrate with the community guardrails, please immediately vote against it and report it,” Yik Yak said on his site. “Yaks that reach -5 total vote points are removed from Yik Yak. Yaks that are flagged must be reviewed by our team before being removed (unless they reach -5 vote points). Through the positive / negative voting system, we rely on our community to help make Yik Yak a constructive place for free and productive speech. ” So, unless five people vote against a post, deleting the post may take a long time.

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The disappearance of Yik Yak four years ago was due in part to the ban on the app by schools. Schools are already expressing their concerns about the return of the application.

Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images

Yik Yak’s community guardrails say it is a place where “communities are free to be authentic, equal and empowered to connect with people nearby.” The application includes a list of behaviors considered prohibited on the platform, such as sharing personal information; intimidation and harassment; threats; bigotry; trolling; spread disinformation; sexual content; and more. It also has a section on mental health resources, including a list of suicide prevention resources (although no numbers are listed).

Colleges and universities already appear to be on the lookout for the app’s return. Oklahoma Christian University has banned use of the app on campus, citing cyberbullying, according to Oklahoma News 9. Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education, which also struggled to contact new and old Yik Yak owners, pointed out that even if a hate message is rejected and deleted, it could live on through screenshots and be shared on other social media.

“It just invites the students to express their worst and most extreme thoughts, because they feel protected by anonymity, but they also know that they are going to have an audience of people familiar with what is going on in the community.” , Joseph E. Abboud told The Chronicle of Higher Ed. Abboud is an associate at the law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, and has worked on a lawsuit against the University of Mary Washington on behalf of several student victims of Yik Yak. “In the academic environment, this leads to a stack. The founders of Yik Yak should have seen it coming. After the app launched, they saw it happening all over the country, and yet the actions that they tried to take to brake it was just ineffective. ”

Being on Yik Yak doesn’t mean you’re doomed to cyberbullying, but staying away from Yik Yak, especially with other social media connectivity, doesn’t mean you’re safe, either. Still, one solution is to ignore Yik Yak this time around. It remains to be seen whether the app will reach similar popularity levels again (but if the past is any indication …).

There is also the question of who will use the new app. When you search for Yik Yak in the App Store, it is intended for users aged 17 or older. The app Terms of use suggest otherwise.

“If you are between 13 and 18 years old, you may only use the Services with the approval of a parent or guardian,” the terms state.

Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram fight against underage registrations from the beginning. Even TikTok, the short video app that has exploded in popularity in recent years, dropped more than 7 million in the first quarter of 2021. accounts possibly belonging to children under 13.

Longer established social media sites have rules in place similar to Yik Yak Community Guardrails, but that doesn’t preclude underage users, or their parents, enter a false date of birth to create an account.

Yik Yak has resurfaced in tumultuous times, and instead of grappling with his checkered past, he’s trying to line things up with a long list of external resources and placing the blame solely on the users. As we have seen with other social networks, this rarely works.


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