By Ella Prieto, Assistant News Editor
Following their graduation from Furman University, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington released the app Yik Yak in 2013. According to a 2017 New York Times Article, the purpose was for those in a close radius to be able to download the app and communicate anonymously. It became popular at colleges and universities, where students would interact about school news on the app.
As Yik Yak continued to grow, it began to spiral out of control, particularly in school settings. Students used the app as a platform to bully their peers or spread rumors. Consequently, several school districts banned Yik Yak and students at colleges began to protest the platform.
Despite the criticism, Block, Inc. acquired the rights to Yik Yak for around one million dollars on April 24, 2017. Just four days after this announcement, the app announced it would be shut down as of May 5, 2017, due to a lack of popularity. However, this was not the end of Yik Yak, as an unnamed team purchased the rights to the Yik Yak brand and later relaunched the app in August 2021.
The fall 2021 semester was the first at Gettysburg College where Yik Yak was prevalent in nearly five years. While the app had gone through changes, such as a newly featured Cuss Buster and an increase in moderation, it still has caused issues and impacted the campus environment.
Many of this year’s biggest controversies were frequently discussed and popularized on Yik Yak, such as the “Tired of White Cis Men?” poster and the lecture by Ryan T. Anderson.
Different students offered an array of opinions about the app and how it is used on campus.
“As someone who loves humor, I think that there is a certain aspect of Yik Yak that gives comedic relief to students when crazy things happen on campus, but I also think it is giving a mask to a lot of people who might be questionable regarding things like racism and sexism,” commented Anderson Gray ’23. “It’s giving them a screen to hide behind, rather than them actually educating themselves on different issues.”
Fellow senior Alex Locher ’23 agreed with points of Gray’s sentiments. Locher, known as “Cape Friend” on Yik Yak stated, “Ultimately, I am not particularly fond of Yik Yak and the general discussion, as it often gives a platform to the sort of people that you would expect to crawl out of the woodwork on an anonymous forum, but there were some fun points.”
They said, “[I am] no longer on Yik Yak, but when I was it was entirely for the ‘Cape Friend’ updates, and when they became sparser and disappeared, I left. It created a forum for people to anonymously interact with others and had all of the benefits and pitfalls of that.”
The notion of solely using Yik Yak to moderate what is being said was echoed by the director of the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life (OSAGL) Jon Allen. Allen, who also serves as the advisor for Gettysburg College’s Student Senate, explained that he “downloaded it to have an understanding of what is being said on the campus sphere so I wasn’t caught off guard when someone mentioned it.”
Allen also felt that Yik Yak “[is] a net negative. Things get put on there that are hurtful towards people that create a less inclusive community. It makes students feel alienated and bullied, and that is not the type of community we want here.”
Allen also noted that the student leaders he met with discussed using Yik Yak in a way similar to himself, checking what is being said.
Vice President of Student Senate Geoffrey Meadville ’25 said, “I have the app still to moderate it because I feel like I have to know what’s going on and what is being said about Student Senate or other organizations I am a part of. But that is all I use it for at this point. I do not like to open it. I want it to be gone.”
Meadville further described how despite the app’s work to rebrand and rehabilitate itself, “it has not gotten any better. We have seen that it has only gotten worse.”
Others agreed with Meadville and his comments. Fellow Student Senate member and Treasurer of College Republicans Jack Murphy ’24 said, “Yik Yak does not help people or help the community in any way, shape or form. I think it is just used to stir the pot, stir drama, and that is a big problem on this campus that we need to fix.”
Community Assistant Christina Wade ’25 concurred with Murphy, adding, “I think that Yik Yak has created a culture of gossip and a constant need to be involved in everybody’s business. And when you have this centralized source of constant information flowing at you, people treat it like the news. Something happens and people immediately go to Yik Yak. It shapes the way you think and creates a constant feed of information, which is just really toxic.”
Assistant director of Residential Education Brooke Gutschick, who works in the same office as Wade, expressed similar reasons for her dislike of Yik Yak. “The Residential Education staff is part of the On-Call rotation, meaning that we are responsible for responding to emergencies that happen outside of business hours. When we are trying to manage an incident, Yik Yak can be challenging because posts/comments often share incorrect information that makes our incident response more challenging.”
Gutschick also stated similar opinions as Allen. She explained, “For the most part, Yik Yak is challenging to the work we try to do as educators — supporting students, helping students feel at home, and helping students grow. When students gain information/advice from Yik Yak, it doesn’t offer us the same opportunity to help students work through things that they’re challenged with or frustrated by, and when students use an anonymous forum to go after their peers, it doesn’t promote our values around building inclusive communities.”
Gutschick’s comments about Yik Yak’s role in spreading false information were also discussed by a fellow member of the community, who wished to remain anonymous.
They said, “I think that Yik Yak has really shown how fast information can spread and how easily people will believe things they read. I do think from a Greek life perspective, especially in terms of sexual assault allegations being brought to Yik Yak, it is a double-edged sword. In the sense that it can be really important, like students deserve to know which organizations have members that are dangerous and it puts pressure on those organizations to hold those members accountable, but at the same time, I feel like sometimes it can be used to weaponize even when people do not want their stories being shared. Sometimes Yik Yak can be very triggering to other survivors when rumors are being spread about their stories that are not true.”
The prevalence of false information on Yik Yak has been something that schools of all levels have been struggling to deal with, and the app has worked with institutions to help with this problem, especially when someone posts anything threatening. Yik Yak often steps in with those posts, giving the appropriate organization the location of where the comments were posted.
“Most students use Yik Yak on their cellphones, which know where you are relative to 10-15 feet. This is needed for the geofence that Yik Yak uses to determine what posts you see, so your location when using the app is tracked but not shared,” clarified Director of Infrastructure and Computing Dr. Thomas Franza. “Under their privacy terms, however, if someone sends a threat and law enforcement becomes involved, Yik Yak will give the location of where the Yak was sent. Usually to get that you need a subpoena, but with Yik Yak’s policy, it is up to the discretion of Yik Yak.”
The ability of Yik Yak to closely track the location of its users is not commonly known, so often those who post threatening messages are alarmed when they are caught. While this tracking helps to remove harmful posts, it cannot catch everything.
While upperclassmen see the damage these notes can cause, first-years had different opinions.
“I think that Yik Yak is beneficial to our community here at Gettysburg College,” said Shane Dowling ’26. “It provides a platform for people to anonymously share their opinions, which I think can be very helpful in certain circumstances.”
Dominic DiLuzio ’26 shared a similar opinion. “Yik Yak allows for important information about subsurface campus events to be transmitted quickly, indiscriminately, and immediately. It transcended the bounds of ‘cliques’ and social circles that would normally restrict gossip to certain groups of people, allowing all to feel more integrated and informed within their community. With that said, there are of course still negatives.”
The Yik Yak debate continues to be complicated, with many perspectives to consider and understand.
This article originally appeared on pages 10 to 11 of the February 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.