Would Kant use Yik Yak ?


I liked the idea of looking into an app that is controversial, especially one that I use. So after reading our prompt for this weeks blog, I looked through my phone to see if I could find one. Snapchat? No. Venmo? No. SoundCloud? Maybe? Oh there it is. Staring up at me out of my social media folder was a little Yak with horns. This app will do just fine. Yik Yak, according to wikipedia, is an app which, “allows people pseudo-anonymously to create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius.” While, I believe, it was meant for good, it can at times be… not so good, to put it bluntly. The basic nature of the app allows people to say whatever they want without any repercussions, due to the anonymity. So, of course, people insult and they expose those they do not care for. Fortunately there are options to flag or downvote certain posts, also known as “Yaks” as they’re referred to on the app. So the app itself does not condone this type of behavior, that is more of a problem with people who have deep seeded issues that use it. I do, however, have a problem with policy vacuum that has developed due to anonymous posting. Obviously, in America we have freedom of speech and in theory we can say whatever we want, wherever we want, and whenever we want. However, until about 5 years ago, some part of our identity would always have to be present in order to say whatever we want. I could wear a mask in public and say something abhorrent, but still I’d most likely I’d get punched in the face or looked at funny. However, with Yik Yak, I can say something abhorrent and the repercussions are extremely minimal. A new concept called “trolling.”

This made me think about the arguments of Milo Yiannopoulos, who spoke at Bucknell two weeks ago. He is known for being quite controversial for many reasons, too many to explain on this blog. However, amongst all of his controversy, he did have a very interesting viewpoint that our freedom of speech has been limited just because what we say is, at times, rejected. He would condone the use of Yik Yak and applaud how anonymity allows us to speak more freely without repercussions. He would say if something hurts your feelings on Yik Yak then don’t listen to it or stop using the app. Regardless of Yiannopoulos’s opinions, it is clear that Yik Yak is not an unethical company but in a way it encourages hurtful comments because it protects people with anonymity. Some, like Milo, would say that is a good thing, while others who are more empathetic would say it is not. Yik Yak is a perfect platform for bullying and because we have never had this type of anonymity in social realms there is a policy vacuum.

In terms of ethical theory, I am going to evaluate the idea of Yik Yak, and not the company itself. From a legal standpoint, deontologists would suggest that since we have the right to freedom of speech, that the idea of posting anonymously is ethically and morally correct, regardless of what is being said. If a person does not agree with what happens on the application and believes the app is harmful then that person either should not insult others on the app or just not use it. The action of speaking freely is legal permissible so therefor it is ethical. From a consequentialist standpoint, it would all depend on the data. So, if there are more negative comments that are insulting and hurtful than there are constructive, useful, and happy comments than the idea is morally and ethically wrong and should not be allowed. From a virtue ethics standpoint, the moral correctness of the idea does is not contingent upon the actions or the consequences. Rather it depends on the user. If the user is considered a virtuous person who has ideal character traits than whatever that person does is ethical use of the application. It should be made clear to everyone who uses the application that they should act like the virtuous person, who would under no circumstances, in my opinion, would troll on Yik Yak.

Please let me know how you guys feel about anonymous posting, the way it affects people, and how to judge the ethics behind doing it. I’m interested to see what you have to say.

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4 thoughts on “Would Kant use Yik Yak ?

  1. Nice post, Frank! I wrote about Yik Yak as well and kind of took a different approach to it. I think you make great points throughout the article, but I think one line stuck out – “If a person does not agree with what happens on the application and believes the app is harmful then that person should … just not use it.” I think one the surface level that this works, but are they not being “harmed” if their reputation/lives/whatever it is that people are saying about the person is being written on there just because that person can’t see it? It’s an open forum that everyone within a few miles can see and the odds are a good number of people will know the person being talked about or do a quick FB search to put the name to a face on campus and while that person isn’t using Yik Yak, I think it can be argued that they/their reputation are still being “harmed”.

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    1. I would agree with this train of thought Mona, and it can be taken even further I think. Your position is that the actions of others based on this trolling could harm the person in question, whether they directly see it or not, but the writings some philosophers (Edward Bloustein for example) suggest that even if this person in question never perceives any harm, from the third parties or the original troll, that does not change the nature of the unethical behavior as unethical. Kind of like the, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears argument. This would focus a lot more on intent than on consequences, and is how I would think of the ethics of an app like this.

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  2. I like what both of you have responded, and I do agree with what you are saying. Do you think that people should be allowed to connect to so many people if their intent is malicious? It’s hard to say. The bill of rights says yes, but is it good for society to connect so many people to so many other people. This is where the policy vacuum comes about? I guess people are allowed to be mean and have their own opinions but it does suck when it allows people to be harmed on such a large scale. The company should look into ways of making it so the app can stop internet trolls from trolling.

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  3. I don’t like anonymous communication and I think for the person, it is an unethical choice, usually. However, I also think there is often a need for anonymity. What if you live in a repressive regime?

    Now, some would claim that “PC”ism in the us is repressive. I find that hard to believe. Free speech does not mean “comfortable” speech is guaranteed. And Free speech is also about politics and public sphere. You cannot say anything. You can not threaten people, for example. You can be sued for slander.

    So, how to balance these? That is the tricky part.

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