Silly app Yik Yak causes serious commotion at UNF

Blake Middleton

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UNF students post things like: My sideboob is a 10/10 today and Smells like weed in the Fountains and I just saw an Osprey land on the roof of the arena. F*** YEAH!

Yik Yak allows students to anonymously post messages to a forum that anyone in a 1.5-mile radius can see.

There are 26,542 active UNF monthly users wired into Yik Yak. The app's popularity among UNF students outnumbers UF's 20,376 users.

There are 26,542 active UNF monthly users wired into Yik Yak. The app’s popularity on UNF campus outnumbers UF’s 20,376 users.

The confusion
The Spinnaker’s inquiries have caused some confusion as to whether or not the university wants to ban the app.

James Robinson, applications system analyst for Information Technology Services, said on Oct. 6 that UNF is working on banning the app because of an external complaint. He told Spinnaker to contact Clay Maddox, assistant director of IT Security, for more details.

When the Spinnaker sent a record request later that day for the specific complaint, Director of Public Relations Joanna Norris said the university isn’t aware of any such complaint.

Spinnaker spoke to Maddox on Oct. 7. He said the app is not being blocked, and ITS was never planning on blocking the app. He said no one has ever spoken to him about blocking the app.

Spinnaker called Robinson for clarification after speaking to Maddox and he said, “I cannot talk to you,” then immediately hung up the phone with no explanation.

The beef
The app has caused confrontation between UNF students and professors.

Michelman

Michelman

In a class of 220 students Dr. Leslie Kaplan teaches, honor students got busted for posting inappropriate things about Kaplan during class.

Jeff Michelman, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies and director of the Honors Program, called it “a virtual bathroom wall” because all posts are anonymous, and some are vulgar.

Michelman said a student showed a faculty member what had been posted on the app.

He said, “We’ve gotten ITS involved in tracking down the addresses of the students that were involved, and we’ve had some success with that.”

However, Robinson said ITS has no way of finding out who said what because apps like these go to great lengths to secure users anonymity.

With the help of geo-fences, virtual boundaries that cut off use of the app, Yik Yak has already been banned at 85 percent of middle and high schools across the U.S.

ScreenCap_4_Brad

Along with students downvoting and upvoting comments, Yik Yak’s 24/7 moderation team monitors comments for hot words associated with bullying and racism. If anything appears threatening or suspicious, Yik Yak will contact the university.

With great power…
Cam Mullen, lead community developer for Yik Yak, said, “What we’ve realized is anonymity is really powerful. It requires responsibility.”

Mullen said middle and high school students aren’t mature enough to handle anonymity on the Internet. Michelman said, “With this app, you can say anything you want, whether it’s true or false, and you don’t have to worry about taking ownership for that.”

But he said a ban on the app at a university campus doesn’t make any sense.

“We don’t have boys and girls. We have young men and women. We have adults,” he said.

“There is something we value at a university campus called free speech,” Michelman said. “But I don’t believe that free speech should allow students to say anything they want without taking ownership.”

Tyler Dean, business management senior, said, “This one’s kick is the fact that it’s anonymous. It would probably die if it wasn’t.”

There are some cases, however, when the creators reveal the identity of its users. The app has been used to make a bomb threat at San Clemente High School and a building at the University of Georgia had to be evacuated after a student made a threat using the app.

Van Schoor

Van Schoor

Mullen said they take threats very seriously and, when necessary, contact authorities and work with officials.

He said all services have to deal with threats like this as they grow. He said Facebook and YouTube went through the same thing.

Thomas Van Schoor, dean of students, said the people at Yik Yak have been forthcoming about reporting back an IP address to the university after they learn a threat has been made.

Van Schoor said if an anonymous threat was made at UNF using the app, police would first decide if the threat is credible.

Threats are deemed credible when they’re specific, and include exact details regarding actions, location and time.

Van Schoor said students have reported things like name calling to Student Conduct from the app, but nothing serious.

“When you’re an anonymous person on the Internet, they’re going to be less afraid to say stuff,” Keith Hubbard, UNF computer science senior, said. “The anonymity gives people the illusion that they can do or say whatever they want.”
Mullen said they have a 24/7 moderation team checking for hot words associated with bullying and racism.

He said as the app grows, the communities do most of the policing. Users can flag or downvote posts. Once a post has 5 downvotes, it’s automatically deleted.

Several students claim they use Yik Yak to post a bunch of “stupid crap” when they’re bored or in class.

Josh Jensen, civil engineering junior, said, “I think it should be anonymous, and that’s okay, but they shouldn’t take anything on it seriously.”

Mullen said they can suspend or block users indefinitely if they need to.

Why Yik Yak?
The app is popular at UNF, with 26,542 active monthly users, according to Mullen.

This is compared to 20,376 at the University of Florida and 33,344 at the University of South Florida.

Mullen said the app was created to give a voice to every student. “The quiet kid in the back of class might actually be the funniest kid on campus,” he said.

He said the creators got the idea from Twitter. They noticed that only a few anonymous Twitters were popular throughout campus. So they made everyone anonymous.

The app completely does away with the concept of followers. Users get Yakarma points when other users upvote their posts.

The app was launched November 2013 by two Furman University students.

Mullen said the app is in the process of becoming a real-time news source. Users will be able to use the app’s “Peek” feature for situations like Ferguson to see what’s going on in real-time at that exact location.

Corey Jones, international relations junior, said, “Anything anonymous is going to have a lot of problems … It definitely presents its own set of challenges, but it’s not necessarily inherently bad. That’s kind of what happens when people are anonymous on the Internet, they just say stupid things.”

UNF President John Delaney declined to be interviewed on the matter.

Email Blake Middleton at [email protected]

*10/8/2014 at 3:30 p.m. – Story updated with interviews