“Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities”

From The Detroit News comes “Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities,” which, as the headline suggests, is more about, well, Yik Yak and flack.  It more or less rehashes the same arguments about Yik Yak that have already been trotted out, though I will highlight two passages I thought were kind of interesting. First there’s this:

Laura Krench, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, is a huge fan of Yik Yak. She downloaded the app onto her phone about a month ago and checks it about every 20 minutes throughout the day.

Recently, she commented on a yak from someone who posted that they had stopped cutting themselves for almost six months but had cut themselves three days in a row.

“If you feel like cutting, write about it, cry about it,” Krench wrote. “Find an alternative because hurting yourself is not the solution. I’ve been there and I believe in you. You can quit again, you truly can.”

I have to say that I’ve seen a lot of Yaks along these lines– maybe not quite this extreme, but Yaks that anonymously express some kind of loneliness, depression, etc. There are obvious problems with the anonymity of Yik Yak, but I’d suggest that a) Yik Yak becomes a safe space to express these kinds of thoughts, and b) Yik Yak is used a lot more for this kind of thing than it is for harassing professors.

The other passage I wanted to highlight from the end of the piece takes a bit of set-up. In the opening paragraphs, the reporter– Kim Kozlowski–  makes reference to Plato’s (aka Socrates’) low opinion of anonymity generally. I don’t know the dialog specifically where Plato talks about this, but given the high value Plato/Socrates places on the exchange between Socrates and others as a means of arriving at “Truth,” this makes a certain amount of sense. Then Kozolowski quotes EMU Professor Margaret Crouch about how the infamous Yik Yak incident made it impossible for her to teach because “they (the students, that is) did not respect us.” That leads to these concluding paragraphs:

Crouch said students need to be held accountable for violating the student code of conduct, especially in a world that continues to be changed by technology. Already the Internet has created distance between people who use it more often to communicate than face to face, and sometimes to hide as trolls on blogs.

Social media apps that allow anonymity change things even more, leaving no social sanctions — exactly what Plato was talking about centuries ago, Crouch said.

“The kind of behavior we think of as ethical or even just decent is kept in place by social sanction — by other people,” Crouch said. “There will be people who will do bad things if they don’t have the social coercion to behave. … So the idea that people will behave badly if they have anonymity has been around a long time. It’s not anything new.”

A couple of quick thoughts. First, without going too far into the weeds with this, what Crouch is talking about in terms of communication technologies like the Internet is more or less what my dissertation was about. What I argued way back then was that these technologies create what I described as “immediate” rhetorical situations, where the term “immediacy” has both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, the quickness and juxtaposition of “immediacy” can be confusing and chaotic because of a lack of perspective, reflection, etc. On the other hand, immediacy also breaks down barriers, and it can foster connectedness and intimacy between communicators over a great distance. Or to be more direct about it, while the internet and anonymous communication is not universally good, it’s obviously not universally bad either.

Second, I’m not so sure about the “social coercion” to make students “behave” squares with students “respecting” their teachers. I’m not sure the two are related, and I’m quite sure that “coercion” is a bad way to get “respect.” We’ve all been in situations as students or other kinds of listeners where we “behaved” but where we also had zero respect for the teachers/speaker. So I guess I’m questioning the point where “respect” broke down, and I also am of the opinion that “coercion” is not a great approach to teaching.

And third, as Crouch says, this is nothing new, which is again why I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to ban Yik Yak.