YikYak and Misinformation on Social Media

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Seth Novak is a sophomore majoring in government, is in Sigma Pi and loves public transportation and bikes! Email Seth at stnovak@email.wm.edu

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

The social media app YikYak is used across campuses all over the United States for students to share gossip and openly express ideas. More specifically, every couple of weeks some event blows up on the app, often spreading rumors that cement themselves as fact. Where rumors used to spread by word of mouth, they can now permeate a campus within a span of hours on YikYak. This is not to say that YikYak can’t also be a valuable source of information. It can be a simple place to post a question and quickly have it answered by a peer, instead of having to physically go ask around. However, it is a double edged sword that the College of William and Mary campus should use with a grain of salt.

This phenomenon is not specific to the College, though. It is a specific example of a broad trend across social media, where anyone is able to broadcast their message without traditional restrictions. The constitutional right to speech and press, combined with the advent of social media, facilitated the ability of anyone to establish themselves on a platform. Instead of relying on traditional press outlets that often miss more localized or niche news, apps such as Twitter or Facebook quickly and succinctly deliver information to younger audiences. Even I often rely on Twitter to deliver information while waiting for class or in between homework assignments. 

Traditional news outlets require a degree of impartiality and high literary quality. Social media, though, drops those requirements and opens up their platform to potential hate speech or other negative messages. For all the benefits social media provides, it also strengthens the influence of people such as Alex Jones or Andrew Tate. Freedom of speech is an important liberty to check injustices and government wrongdoings, but I believe there needs to be a critical inspection of how that interacts with the promulgation of hate speech. Alex Jones’s being ordered to pay 1.44 billion dollars for promoting conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook and Andrew Tate’s ban from most platforms are steps in the right direction, but there needs to be preventative measures, not reactive. There is no law dictating that social media apps censor hate speech or lies — it is their obligation to monitor the impact users on their sites can have on the population, elections and the overall development of society. Social media was created as a way to keep in touch with friends and family, but it has evolved into another news outlet, and therefore should be held to the same standards as established outlets.

YikYak is no exception to this. Even though the worst it does is spread rumors about local populations, its trends can be expanded and multiplied on bigger platforms. I have no solution to the current spread of misinformation and hate speech, but that does not mean one does not exist. Using YikYak as an example, we could all do better by using a critical eye when seeing information on its platform and not assuming its accuracy. 


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