Following the mobile application’s relaunch on Aug. 15, the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak has created controversy regarding cyberbullying and hate speech across East Carolina University’s student body.
Yik Yak was launched by two Atlanta-based college students in 2013 and rose to popularity on various college and high school campuses throughout the country, according to the New York Times. Complaints of cyberbullying, harassment, threats of assault and more led to campuses banning the app, and eventually, a major decrease in popularity among students. The app was shut down in 2017 until its reappearance this year.
Junior exercise physiology major Amber Parker said although she doesn’t use Yik Yak personally, she has classmates that have shown her some of the content posted. She said sometimes the content she’s seen can be amusing, but she’s noticed a lot of hearsay about various individuals and groups on campus. Parker said the anonymity of platforms like Yik Yak allows people to say more hateful things, and the app may draw the line between free speech and cyberbullying.
“I definitely think that it’s (Yik Yak), like, a negative impact, especially on people’s health and image,” Parker said. “Because obviously if you open that and read something about yourself and you know it’s not true, you don’t know who posted it, you don’t know where it came from and people can share and comment on it and all these things can be said but no one’s going to be held liable for it.”
Sergeant Chris Viverette of the Greenville Police Department (GPD) said in an email statement cyberbullying on any social media platform is classified as an individual who harrasses a target online. Under the North Carolina General Statute 14-458.1, Viverette said individuals can potentially be charged with a misdemeanor for cyberbullying. He said other criminal acts can occur on platforms like Yik Yak, such as the communication of threats and harassment of a minor.
Individuals may believe their content on these social media platforms are anonymous, Viverette said, but there are various techniques in which law enforcement can track down the original posts and find the individual’s identity. He said due to the current prevalence of social media, GPD frequently investigates cases of cyberbullying and online harassment.
“The use of social media platforms to bully, threaten or harass others is more common than in years past,” Viverette wrote in an email statement. “Individuals take the perception of anonymity social media offers as an opportunity to stalk and harass others. While opinions posted on social media may fall under First Amendment protections, statements meant to threaten others may be criminal in nature.”
ECU alumnus Dale Roig said he remembers Yik Yak’s popularity with ECU students in 2013 and 2014 following its initial launch. As a member of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Roig said a lot of the content posted had to do with organizations like fraternities and sororities across campus, as well as individual students. He said sometimes individuals would be singled out on the app throughout its popularity at ECU.
Roig said the platform’s popularity slowly faded out during his time at ECU, moreso when apps like Tinder and Instagram became prevalent. He said although when he was younger the platform was entertainment, he can understand why people would feel attacked by some of the content posted.
“When it (Yik Yak) became super popular, like that’s all really anyone even was talking about,” Roig said. “I was in Greek Life specifically, so that was a really big part of it. You know, there were kind of like narratives on Yik Yak, whether it be this fraternity or this sorority doing that, and then obviously everyone would just use it to make fun of people there. That was a really big fad.”
Field Operations Captain Chris Sutton of the ECU Police Department said in an email statement he was unable to participate in a full interview for the article and due to circumstances he cannot offer an opinion on a private business.
Sutton wrote that students should use social media responsibly, as many posts on anonymous platforms can be traced back to the individual. He said students should contact the ECU Counseling Center and further university resources if needed.
“From a law enforcement perspective, we look for and respond to threats that mention endangering our employees or students,” Sutton wrote. “If we run across potential mental health concerns with a member of the university community, we respond appropriately in person if there is an immediate threat to their life or others or work with the Dean of Students Office to find the individual and get them the help they need.”
ECU’s Intercultural Affairs and Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSRR) declined an interview with The East Carolinian.
In lieu of a formal interview, Leila Faranesh, director of the OSRR responded with an email statement. Faranesh said the OSRR responds to complaints in regards to violations of ECU’s honor code, not general complaints such as those from social media. She said there is not much she can say due to student privacy.
“That type of action (potential disciplinary action) is based on different information including the type of complaint and the student history,” Faranesh said in the email. “Students should be very careful about what they post on social media. It never goes away and can potentially hinder or even ruin future job opportunities or relationships.”