Just when I thought the whole Yik Yak thing was dying down comes this (which I learned about from an alert EMUTalk reader and a colleague), from the Sunday New York Times, “Popular Yik Yak App Confers Anonymity and Delivers Abuse.” Here’s a long quote from the opening paragraphs that makes it clear why this is particularly relevant for EMU:
During a brief recess in an honors course at Eastern Michigan University last fall, a teaching assistant approached the class’s three female professors. “I think you need to see this,” she said, tapping the icon of a furry yak on her iPhone.
The app opened, and the assistant began scrolling through the feed. While the professors had been lecturing about post-apocalyptic culture, some of the 230 or so freshmen in the auditorium had been having a separate conversation about them on a social media site called Yik Yak. There were dozens of posts, most demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery.
After class, one of the professors, Margaret Crouch, sent off a flurry of emails — with screenshots of some of the worst messages attached — to various university officials, urging them to take some sort of action. “I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched. I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused,” she wrote to her union representative. “I am about ready to hire a lawyer.”
In the end, nothing much came of Ms. Crouch’s efforts, for a simple reason: Yik Yak is anonymous. There was no way for the school to know who was responsible for the posts.
Eastern Michigan is one of a number of universities whose campus has been roiled by offensive “yaks.” Since the app’s introduction a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.
The article goes on from there, and I think it does a pretty good job of summing up the way Yik Yak works and the limitations/problems/dilemmas universities face in doing anything about it. Though since this is now news in the New York Times, I have to wonder: what has happened with Crouch’s threat of hiring a lawyer?