The anonymous posting app Yik Yak has invaded college campuses across the country, providing ample humor while bringing out the quirks of its posters’ locales. Unfortunately, it has also been a platform for cyberbullying and violent threats that eventually involved the police. We implore students at the College of William and Mary not to let that happen — to post responsibly, to avoid cruelty, and to alert law enforcement if they see threatening posts.
The best advice for posting on Yik Yak is not complicated: Don’t be stupid. A student at Towson University posted on Yik Yak that he was going to commit a mass shooting, calling it “Virginia Tech part 2.” He later admitted that he never intended to hurt anyone, but that did not stop local police from arresting him.
The College is a stressful place; students are anxious about midterms, jobs and internships, relationships, student loans and Williamsburg’s typically erratic weather. But nothing gives a student the right to threaten others anonymously, whether they mean it or not. It is not a First Amendment right, it creates unnecessary fear and panic, and it may direct police resources away from other problems which demand their attention.
In the event that you do decide to post a threat, your posts are not truly anonymous. Yik Yak will hand over your IP address and GPS location if the police request it. Many College students remember when police arrested Ben Zavelsky, formally of the class of 2016, for threatening to kill students on Collegiate ACB, an anonymous posting site for students at the College. Consider the consequences of your posts and keep the College’s values in mind.
That also means not attacking people or organizations. Misogynist or vicious posts may not land you in jail, but they make others feel uncomfortable, and often unsafe, as the leaked Sigma Chi email demonstrated last year. And in extreme cases, these kinds of posts have the potential to do serious damage to students’ lives.
Of course, what makes anonymity dangerous and destructive can, in a different way, also make it a force for good. It can allow students to encourage each other or to confess their problems. At its best, Yik Yak can be a forum for communal commiseration, grief, celebration, humor and connection. It can help express what makes the College unique.
Yik Yak is still new and its effects are barely known. Like any anonymous posting app, Yik Yak will attract the harmlessly amusing, the dangerously anti-social and everything in between. We can, however, monitor ourselves and avoid the harm that anonymous posting can do — and make Yik Yak friendly, silly and reflective of the College’s core values.
We also hope that Yik Yak will continue to erode the once-popular and now-unpleasant Facebook page, Overheard at William and Mary.