To Yik Yak or Not?

Reading the first line of the prompt, I was initially confused about how an app could be or could be acting in a way that was ethically wrong. Then I immediately thought of Yik Yak, the social media app created by two frat brothers from Georgia that “became a ~400 million in just 365 days”.

As I am sure that we are all familiar (or somewhat familiar) with, Yik Yak is an app that allows individuals in the same area to post pictures and text anonymously to a forum-type discussion thread that is visible to anyone who has the app within a 1.5 mile radius. Though I’m not sure exactly how revenue is being generated through the app, Yik Yak is booming with investors funding its growth and enabled the founders to move out of their parents’ houses (yay?) and into an office.

While the app may serve as an efficient way of posting announcements and having discussions with peers in places such as college campuses, the “anonymity also encourages people to become the worst versions of themselves, and teenagers quickly resorted to being just that on Yik Yak”. Yik Yak has faced a lot of backlash for this very reason – in a generation where there has been way too many cases of cyber bullying, Yik Yak only serves as another means for people to hurt others without being accountable for it. Is this moral?

From a consequentialism point of view, I would argue that the co-founders should remove some of the anonymity from the app or delete it altogether (easier said than done, I agree).  “The consequences are all that matters” in the consequentialism point of view and more people are being hurt through the posts people are making than the people benefitting from them because yes, we already know for the 100th time that if one more person pulls the fire alarm in Vedder at 3am, you’re going to lose it. Not only are the things being posted on Yik Yak affecting people on an individual level, but there have also been several instances of bomb threats being posted on Yik Yak that required the evaluation of schools in both Alabama and Massachusetts.

When the action (the posts being made) are done, what is left is a distraught young girl who “reads yaks that not only mentioned her depression but encourages it”, hundreds of students who have to miss a day of school, police and firefighters who comb through every inch of the school to make sure its safe, etc.

The deontology (or Kantian) point of view considers ethics based on a person/corporation’s intentions. Therefore, I think that someone analyzing Yik Yak from this point of view would also argue that the deletion of Yik Yak would be necessary in order to remove the interface that allows people to post things that negatively affects the greater population. I admit that I scroll through Yik Yak sometimes when I am bored, but I can’t say that my life would be any different if it ceased to exist.



Explainer: What is Yik Yak?



7 thoughts on “To Yik Yak or Not?

  1. Good post Mona! As you have mentioned in your post, the ethics question is whether Yik Yak is an ethically neutral app that can be abused or whether it is inherently unethical but can be used ethically. I believe it to be the latter and the reason is accountability. I think human beings should be accountable for everything they say or do. This encourages ethical principles and good behavior, and discourages irresponsible and ill conduct.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dan, I agree with you in that the creation of the app wasn’t necessarily unethical but that the real issue is human accountability. The cannot say this for certain, but I would assume that the reason these college students created Yik Yak was not for anonymous bomb threats or insults. In my opinion, it is the morality and intentions of the people posting Yik Yak that comes into question.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mona, this is a great post and an extremely relatable issue on Bucknell’s campus. I enjoyed how you tied Yik Yak into the various ethical theories, especially consequentialism (I know exactly what you are talking about when you reference repeated posts). The app was founded on anonymity and you believe they should remove anonymity or the app entirely since there is more harm than good done with the presence of the app. I also agree with this sentiment. The messages on our campus are either extremely harmful, stupid, or inappropriate. More than a useful app, it is a distraction for people who have way too much time on their hands. I wouldn’t miss the app if it disappeared, and I don’t think many people would either.


  3. I really enjoyed the post, but disagree with some of the things you talked about. I believe the anonymity should be protected because it allows people to post their ideas without worries about how it will affect them. This is the same on the internet and many other places. I do agree that this can create a lot of problems because it can affect people happiness and livelihood, but I believe that their should be some type of censorship. With Twitter and Youtube, and other social media sites where their is anonymity, it comes at a price of censorship. If someone finds something offensive or aimed at a specific person then it should be removed. I think that something should be censored if it is aimed at a specific person or group. I know this would be extremely difficult in practice because the censor would have all the power and would be applying their biases to the app, but hopefully it would create a level on censorship.


  4. What about using Yik Yak as a means of whistle-blowing? Does anonymity provide protection to those that wish to “expose” unpopular opinions? I agree that there should be some level of censorship on Yik Yak, but there’s still a benefit to pure anonymity.


  5. I am happy to say that a lot of people close to me do not use Yik Yak in a malicious way, or even at all for that matter. At this point, quite like with rumors, people have learned not to listen to applications like these. It can be used for terrible things and can affect a lot of people that is what bothers me. People are able to connect to so many people so easily and it is really difficult to say if people should be allowed to use it to harm others. Hopefully, people can learn to use the app to make people laugh or inform others of something positive. Otherwise, people should just learn to get off the app, which I think people are beginning to do.


  6. Can there not be a way to delete malicious content? Something enforced by the user community? Anonymity has a tendency to find its media. In Pompeii, when they uncovered the city lost to the volcano, they found lots of grafitti. So, anonymity is not novel to the app.

    But it does seem to have lowered the “cost” of anonymity. If I risked a fine or embarassment for what I wrote in yik yak like I would with grafitti, I woudl have to care a lot more.

    By the way, I know a few faculty, including me, who like to go on and read yaks or post some just to see what happens. Personally, I never write anything I wouldn’t also defend in public.


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