YikYak: are anonymous views always bad news?

Let's wind back to August 2013. Anonymous question site ask.fm is big. Just as big are the stories of teen suicides due to cyber bullying. One of the biggest stories is that of Hannah Smith, and whether or not there is truth in the inquest that said 98% of the hate messages she received came from her own IP address, the end game is the same - ask.fm was to blame.

Ask.fm wasn't the first nor the last website to offer a method of anonymous messaging; Tumblr's anonymous message setting has also been a culprit of causing suicides.

Now there is the rapid rise of YikYak, a localised anonymous messaging service that works primarily as a phone app - think Twitter, but only with people nearby, and, of course, without names. I first heard of the service several years ago in an article on Radio 1's Newsbeat, discussing how and why the app was to be banned on school campuses - to prevent bullying. At the time, YikYak wasn't that popular on this side of the pond but in the last year that's changed dramatically, and it seems that the same problem is being faced in the UK.

Although I've never been personally attacked on the app, a university society I'm a part of recently was in a stream of messages, and I can vouch for how unpleasant the "Yaks" were. Specific people were targeted, offensively and insensitively, and it is far from the only instance where this has occurred.

Last semester my uni ran a couple of open mic nights which I was looking forward to playing, but once I downloaded YikYak and saw the sort of things people were saying on the uni's weekly karaoke night, well, it's safe to say I'm never singing on campus bar in the comfort of my own room where only my housemates can make jesting comments. Even if I didn't read the comments myself, I'd be all too aware hundreds of people were reading them, and dozens "up" and "down" voting them.

But as easily as these services can be used for bad, they can equally be used for good. It's as simple to write something neutral, or even a compliment - not the weird, creepy ones that so often pop up, either - as it is to write a personal attack, so does it reflect more on users than the apps themselves that they are used to incite hatred?

At college back in Derby, there was a Twitter profile linked with an Ask.fm account that only posted positive messages about students and teachers of Joseph Wright College. You submitted your praise via direct message or anonymously on ask.fm and it would be tweeted - to check it was real, I sent one in and lo and behold, it was.
You can check out the full Twitter account here, although it hasn't been used, sadly, since last November.

I love YikYak. I frequently travel via Stockport on my way to Sheffield and as I've spoken about before, I'm somewhat confused about the train platforms - there's a platform 0, placed on the outside of the ticket barriers. It would've made sense to ask a local to explain when they simply didn't build a platform 5 after platform 4, but at a train station there's no knowing who lives there. A member of staff, maybe, but my train was minutes away and I didn't fancy a long chat.

So, I used the beauty of YikYak - I connected to The Cloud and asked. Here's what I got:
There's also a bizarre sense of community on YikYak, with possible strangers linking arms on local issues - whether it's the sighting or possible death of the university's campus cat, Uni. of Nottingham vs. Nottingham Trent, or (my favourite) Derby's "is it too late now to say Sarry?"

I once saw the app described - aptly, in a Yak - as the modern day version of a letter in a bottle, and that's another positive of it: particularly when you're traveling. I love reading the "hot" Yaks in places like London, offering a glimpse into the lives these people lead.

Unlike anonymous messaging services such as ask.fm, YikYak has a form on monitoring method - five down votes and your Yak is removed, and anyone can flag a Yak as inappropriate. It's not brilliant, but it's something,

And when it comes down to it, YikYak can be a good place to vent your anger, but be aware of what you say - the person you're angry at might be reading it. Don't phrase what you write so that the person or group of people you're referring to can't be identified.

Saying, "sick of my housemates not cleaning up" is okay - every student is sick of their housemates not cleaning up - but saying, "Fred Blogs sounds shit at karaoke" is quite another.

We need a stricter form of monitoring, but it's unfeasible to monitor every message that goes online. YikYak's on the right path but there's still some work needed.

Look at it this way: there are creepy people on YikYak asking fro sex. The same can be said for ask.fm, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. The same can be said for real life - ask anyone who's ever been in a club. Perhaps it's not YikYak that's the problem, but the people.


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