Yik Yak Can Lead to Campus Disiplinary Issues

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Apr 13, 2016 | 0 Comments

Yik Yak, a public, anonymous message board that takes into account a user's location, continues to create issues for colleges and universities and their students.  To those unfamiliar, the Yik Yak users can post whatever they want to other nearby Yik Yak users.  Users anonymously comment on posts, known as "yaks" in Yik Yak parlance, and upvote or downvote "yaks."  Yik Yak was created by two recent college graduates in 2013, and has become a popular social media platform among college students.  Yik Yak, because of its anonymous nature, is often used by college students to engage in behavior that they would not otherwise engage in if their names were associated with their yaks.  Yik Yak is not alone in terms of social media creating disciplinary for college students, but the app has created major issues on college campuses.

Yik Yak was certainly not to blame for escalating racial tensions at University of Missouri that eventually led to the President's resignation, but yaks did create additional issues at the school.  One yak stated, "I'm going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.'  Another yak stated, "Some of you are alright. Don't go to campus tomorrow," which was regarded as similar enough to a post to 4chan, another anonymous social media platform, the day before the Umpqua Community College mass shooting in Oregon in the fall of 2015.

Although the University of Missouri police were able to track down the individual suspected of posting both yaks, the threats have created renewed criticism of the app.  In the recent past for example, a coalition made up of 70 women's and civil rights groups assailed Yik Yak as source of abuse, discrimination, and harassment.  Brooks Buffington, co-founder of Yik Yak, responded to what occurred at the University of Missouri by asserting, "This sort of misbehavior is NOT what Yik Yak is to be used for. Period.  It is not condoned by Yik Yak, and it violates our terms of service."

Due to Yik Yak's popularity with college students, its associated issues will most likely not go away anytime soon despite some schools' attempts to limit the app's use.  Since 2014, Yik Yak has consistently ranked in the top 30 social media apps in the United States.  The app is valued between $200 - $300 million dollars and has raised more than $73 million in funding.  Despite criticisms, supporters of Yik Yak contend that the app is nothing more than a place to "yak" about what goes on in a user's world and college life in general.  Most yaks are in fact mundane.

The mundane nature of most yaks, however, is arguably outweighed by yaks that have regularly made headlines in the recent past.  For example:

November 2015

Threats of a mass shooting posted at Charleston Southern University and Cal State Fresno

October 2015

Threats of a mass shooting posted at Emory University and Lee University

October 2015

Racist messages posted at American University

September 2015

Threats of a shooting posted at Florida Atlantic University

Spring 2015

Threats of rape and murder posted at the University of Mary Washington

January 2015

Racist comments posted at Clemson University

January 2015

Sexually explicit messages about female professor posted at Eastern Michigan University

October 2014

Threats of sexual assault and violence posted at Kenyon College

October 2014

Threats of a mass shooting at Widener University and Towson University

September 2014

Sex tape posted without the female's consent at Rowan University

Although these are examples of Yik Yak at its worst, anonymity arguably motivates users to post yaks that they would not otherwise post.  This "anonymity" is not absolute, however.  Yik Yak not only logs a user's IP address, GPS coordinates, and the technical details of a user's specific device used to post a yak, but it also asks for a user's phone number the first time a user posts.  Law enforcement agencies can seek this information from Yik Yak, which at times honors such requests or requires a subpoena or search warrant for example.

Social media platforms such as Yik Yak allow for forms of communication that did not previously exist among college students.  With these opportunities is a potential downside, however.  Whether college students post messages on Yik Yak, SnapChat, Facebook, or other forms of social media, they should be mindful that the posts they send can result in unexpected consequences.  Most users of Yik Yak will obviously not go to the extremes that make headlines, but before hitting "send," college students should be mindful that social media posts can create problems at a later time. 

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges across the United States while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.


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