Club Penguin left us late March this year, thankfully it is being revamped and turned into a mobile application; however, Yik Yak, does not have the same fate and will officially be shut down next week. While I personally have not used Yik Yak since I was a sophomore, at the height of its popularity in 2014, the app continued use for the years following around college campuses. The same reason the app was created was the same reason for its demise, the promise of anonymity.
Yik Yak was developed by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington and was launched in November of 2013. The developers both put their professional careers on hold after graduating from Furman University, Droll dropping out of medical school and Buffington deferring on his career in finance. A year after the mobile application’s launch, it was the 9th most downloaded in the social media category. Droll and Buffington developed the app with the intent to connect users to their community, moreover their campus community, within a five mile radius - it was all about “local connection,” as they put it. The app allowed members of the community to interact anonymously at first; however, as time went on, the application required users to register a handle as well as their phone number, taking away some of that perceived anonymity. Some point to this as a contributing reason for its decline in popularity, in addition to creating turmoil within the community.
Yik Yak has boasted about some of the positives that has come out of their app and creating a community, such as the the couple from the University of North Florida who met married because of Yik Yak and the community at Rutger that helped an owner find its lost cat; however, Yik Yak has also caused a lot of issues in campus communities with abusing the app and online bullying. While there are people that may genuinely use the app to connect with their community, there is always the few that abused it’s anonymous (-ish) feature. This has led many universities to ban the app on campus or discourage its use. Yik Yak was officially banned at our own campus, nearly a year ago. S&T officials issued a statement on April 6th, 2016 stating its reasoning. It is a huge surprise that the ban did not come sooner after threats were made on Yik Yak by two S&T students during the fall semester of 2015, one at our own campus and another the Mizzou Yik Yak feed via a GPS scrambler. By public record, the threat made S&T feed declared that the Yaker was “going to shoot up this school.” Following the threat, the university police investigated the threat alongside the Rolla Police department. The university issued a warning to the faculty and students after the threat was reported. This threat was made shortly after Hunter Parks was arrested in Thomas Jefferson Residence Hall for posting racially charged threats on the Yik Yak feed in Columbia. While it might have been an empty threat, who is to say at this point, “threats of violence of violence of any kind are not tolerated… [the University of Missouri System] will take every threat seriously and act on them appropriately to protect our campus community,” according to S&T’s former Chancellor Schrader.
S&T was not alone in having issues with Yik Yak - S&T only following suit with other universities in banning the app due to discourse that the app’s configuration enabled. Perhaps, if Yik Yak had come around earlier, in a time where the climate was not as delicate as it is today (and has been for years), then the previously valued 400 million dollar application might not be selling its remaining talent and intellectual property for a mere 1 million dollars to Square, the mobile payment company. All in all, the promise of continued anonymity for Yik Yak users was not feasible long term due to challenges with funding and incidents of bullying and threats, ultimately causing Droll and Buffington to make the decision to take the app offline. It was real while it lasted.