“Yik Yak Rhetorics” and “Don’t Ban Yik Yak”

Speaking of Yik Yak: not one but two recent articles in Inside Higher Ed. The first comes from someone who I know professionally, Jeff Rice, and his piece “Yik Yak Rhetorics.” Jeff is an interesting writer and thinker, so I encourage you to read through the whole thing. But one observation and two quotes I’ll share from my reading: first, my experience with Yik Yak very much squares with his in that I find it banal and stupid. I can’t recall ever reading a Yak that I’d describe as a “threat.”

As for the quotes; there’s this:

Yik Yak is about proximity. A user of Yik Yak either assumes proximity (those near me will read this) or creates proximity (we are not physically near one another, but you are now close to what I am thinking). The media theorist Marshall McLuhan proclaimed proximity as a central tenet of new media logics. Information brushes against information, he wrote. Out of that proximity, ideas are formed. Italian theorist Michel Maffesoli framed the network need for proximity as a question of secrecy: we are never really sure why items interact or why we create proximity across networks. What’s our motivation? What do we hope to gain?

In the university, we encourage proximity. We ask faculty to develop relationships with students. We ask students to feel a relationship with the university (for retention purposes; so as alumni they will become donors; for networking purposes as each graduating class seeks employment). When we engage with social media, however, proximity sparks fear. Now we are too close. Now we know too much. As soon as we know what others are thinking, we get scared. Or offended. Or outraged.

And also this:

Yik Yak is admission that there is no private without the public. Social media have always been a space that – because of the sense of proximity – feels private, but is, in fact, public. Whether we are discussing Anthony Weiner’s embarrassing bathroom selfies, Lucas Oil’s Charlotte Lucas’ racist tweet, or Cee Lo Green’s insensitive tweets about rape, we recognize how quickly private thought is made public. Even former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s private phone conversation becomes a public moment as the recorded discussion is duplicated and circulated to news outlets, blogs, and other sites.

College students are hardly the only people thinking the uncomfortable or the offensive. All around us uncomfortable thought exists. Eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are not the only people who make private thought public on a whim. We all do. My Facebook feed is proof. The majority of my Facebook friends are, after all, academics. They seldom hold back on their thoughts.

Very true.

The other piece, “Don’t Ban Yik Yak,” is from Eric Stoller, who (among other things) is the “Student Affairs and Technology” blogger at IHE. Here’s a short passage:

Yik Yak may at times be a hot mess. However, like every single communication tool in the history of humankind, Yik Yak is what we make of it. Yaks represent us. Posts on the anonymous geolocation mobile-based app run the gamut of good, bad, and ugly.

When higher education administrators (usually in partnership with campus IT pros) “ban” Yik Yak by blocking wireless access to the app on campus networks, they are sending two distinct messages: We do not fully understand how connectivity works and we do not understand how Yik Yak works. Too harsh? Perhaps.

2 thoughts on ““Yik Yak Rhetorics” and “Don’t Ban Yik Yak”

  1. I guess some of the argument here depends on how you assess the purpose and viability of a threat. Is anybody who mentions or invokes any form of violence against somebody else (e.g., hypothetically, “I oughta kill that person”)? Do they have to say they’re really going to do it (“I’m going to kill that person”)? I don’t actually use Yik Yak, but I’ve seen screengrabs of stuff that gave me chills on behalf of people who were the obvious targets. Do I think there’s a high likelihood any of those threats will come to fruition? Probably not, and neither do I think any of this warrants shutting down Yik Yak anymore than shutting down the Postal Service because people can mail hard copy threats too. But I don’t think it’s quite right, either, to say that nothing significant happens there, that it’s *only* banal.


  2. There’s a link to ugly Clemson yaks from Stoller’s article. You will be dismayed to think the language of the 1940’s is alive and well there.


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