Education

Anonymous messaging app Yik Yak returns after 4-year shutdown

Dive Brief:

  • Yik Yak, the anonymous messaging app that shut down four years ago after being swamped with complaints that it facilitated racism, discrimination and threats of violence on college campuses, is back online

  • As with its original incarnation, Yik Yak enables users to post without their name attached. Anyone within 5 miles of where a message originated can view, respond or vote on it, signaling they like or dislike the content. 

  • The platform’s new owners promised to root out bullying or threatening language. A lack of these types of guardrails dogged college administrators in its previous iteration.

Dive Insight:

Yik Yak had a meteoric rise after its inception in 2013, and about a year later it was valued at up to $400 million. During the app’s early years, its founders secured about $74 million in venture-capital funding. 

Yet it was a scourge for college officials, who found themselves contending with the fallout of scandals stemming from the app, though they had little power to regulate it.

Its anonymous nature made it a prime vehicle for racist, prejudicial and violent posts, and the platform’s original creators floundered at policing it

Yik Yak’s new owners didn’t identify themselves in a post on their website but said they bought the rights to redevelop the app from its original makers in February. They said the app could ban users immediately if they posted hate speech, made threats, or otherwise seriously violated the app’s rules. 

Messages that receive a certain number of negative votes will also be stripped immediately from the app’s feed, they said, a measure included in the app’s original version. When a post is reported, Yik Yak’s team “reviews it as soon as possible and takes action when necessary,” the owners said. 

For years, users on the app had threatened shootings, rape and other crimes at college campuses. 

University of Missouri police arrested a 19-year-old student in 2015 after he used the app to pledge to kill Black people on the campus. Seven months later he pleaded guilty to making a terrorist threat. 

A Michigan State University student in 2014 posted that he would shoot up the school. He was arrested and sentenced to two years’ probation. And a former Virginia Tech student in 2015 pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after indicating on Yik Yak he would repeat the deadly 2007 shooting spree at the university.

Colleges attempted to mitigate the app’s influence, with some banning it from their wireless networks, though these efforts largely proved ineffective as students could rely on their mobile data plans. 

Still, with criticism piling on, Yik Yak’s popularity nosedived. The app had 1.8 million downloads in September 2014, The New York Times reported. Two years later, the number had dropped to 125,000. 

In April 2017, Yik Yak announced it would shut down after its significant decline in users. 

The app brought nothing positive to the campus experience in its past life, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. He said it was more of a distraction than a “top 10 issue” for administrators, but it was still harmful.

Officials could use it to get a pulse on issues on campus, Kruger said, but it was not a tool to engage students. He is not optimistic about the new owners’ ability to monitor the network.

“My sense is that if they’re trying to resurrect this platform, it will behave as it did before,” Kruger said.

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