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Yik Yak app causes controversy for college campuses

Falcon News Service

November 12, 2015

Yik Yak is one of the newest social media apps to become popular on college campuses, including UW-River Falls, but it also has been the cause of controversy.

Yik Yak, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a mobile app that allows a person to post a comment on a live feed anonymously. The posted comment, called a “yak,” can only be seen by people within a few miles of where the comment was posted. The “yak” can either get “up voted” or “down voted.” The more up votes a comment gets the longer it stays in the feed, but once the “yak” gets a negative five score it disappears.

Yik Yak Communications Associate Olivia Boger explained that the app allows students to post about a variety of topics.

“On Yik Yak, students can share news, crack jokes, ask questions, and offer support about life’s casual, relatable and hilarious moments,” Boger said via email.

Boger also said that UWRF is very active and also funny.

Sometimes, though, a “yak” can be offensive and cause controversy for a university. Some campuses around the country have had incidents where a “yak” was posted that contained offensive comments about professors or students. Since Yik Yak users are anonymous it is incredibly difficult to track down the people who post these offensive comments.

Steve Reed, chief information officer at UW-River Falls, said that he has not received any formal complaints regarding Yik Yak, but there have been discussions regarding the app.

Location, according to Boger, is very important for Yik Yak as the app is focused on keeping posts contained within a small area like a college campus. Yik Yak uses “geofences” to restrict use around elementary and high schools.

A geofence is a virtual barrier that uses GPS or radio frequency identification to define geographical boundaries. These geofences can detect when someone enters a restricted area like an elementary school and prevent the user from using an app like Yik Yak, if the administrator wants to prevent the use of the app. Yik Yak manages its own geofences and can change them if needed.

Some college campuses have restricted or blocked students from using Yik Yak on their network to prevent the problems the app may bring. UWRF does not restrict Yik Yak, because doing so would be against the freedom of expression the university believes in, Reed said. For the most part, he said, a social app is used in a positive fashion rather than a negative one.

Reed explained that even if UWRF wanted to block social apps it would be hard to do because the university can’t block people from using them off campus.

“Even if we were to block them, which one, it’s very difficult to do,” Reed said. “What do they do off campus? All those applications are still available to do whatever they want to do.”

While technically there is not much the Division of Technology Services can do to prevent problems that Yik Yak might bring, the one thing UWRF can do to help avoid the problems is to educate students.

“We need to educate people to be appropriate users of this technology,” said Reed.