Yik Yak and the Death of Campus Discourse

While this is normally something I would write for my school’s alternative (finest) daily publication, The Bullsheet, (in fact, I have made mention of it) I feel like a potentially wider and more diverse audience could benefit from reading this so I shall post it here: Yik Yak has become Death, Destroyer of Discourse on College Campuses.

Yik Yak, for those unaware, is an unholy yet moderately addictive app that combines the seminal aspects of 4chan and reddit, respectively. College students download the app and it utilizes the location services feature on all smart phones to locate your “herd” — that is to say, the other students at your school (it’s easiest to think of Yik Yak as a mini-meshnet). From there, users post functionally anonymously (within threads, each poster is designated an image — e.g. a green acorn — but that changes from thread to thread) and either “upvote” or “downvote” posts and comments they read, in a sense, giving a post/comment their approval or disapproval.

1-VsWwerQZNo1zG4uFAuUg_wWhile this sounds innocuous enough, a large part of Yik Yak’s issues come in the form of the rules governing downvoted posts. Once a post or comment has a net-score of -5 — that is to say, overall more people downvoted than upvoted — it is deleted. While again, not inherently bad, the utilization of the system stifles dialogue and makes conversations either impossible to understand or eliminates them altogether. The reason this occurs is because the upvote/downvote system is utilized the same way the “like” function on Facebook is or the snaps of approval/”boo”s of disapproval are: spamming your approval or disapproval without contributing anything to the discussion.

What this system creates is one where any post or comment that is contentious or that one finds disagreeable is downvoted and rarely responded to. In fact, the ratio of downvotes to actual responses appear to be incredibly skewed in such a way that a contentious, yet interesting, post might be pruned before any discussion can take place about it. This means that anyone starting a thread with even a semi-unpopular opinion is likely to have the thread deleted either before any conversation begins, or mid-conversation. What this does, of course, is to homogenize the forum and turn it into an echo chamber where the same vanilla, Student ApprovedTM content is repeated day after day (e.g. “who wants to hook up???” or “any parties tonight?”). Any hope of engaging with opposing viewpoints, especially by those who are too shy to speak in public, is destroyed by what I call “the tyranny of ‘the like'”.

What’s more, if one is late to a discussion and wants to read all the comments on a thread, chances are many have been deleted and all one sees is a wall of one person replying to posts that no longer exist.

Obviously none of this will change magically, but what I propose is that users only downvote threads/original posts that are obviously spam and only downvote comments which are completely irrelevant or obviously spam. If you don’t like a post, don’t read it. If you disagree, argue about it! We are already seeing open dialogue on college campuses being destroyed by other forces, we ought not burn all our bridges lest we sew our mouths shut.