Anonymity Exposed

 

A large, domesticated wild ox and abominable snowman, said to inhabit the Himalayas, have taken over our school. Yik Yak and Yeti: Campus Stories are redefining how we connect, interact and ultimately share our lives.

 

 

Originally a small startup app, Yik Yak soon rocketed to app store fame, cultivating an audience almost exclusively of college students and streamlining the gross fascination of anonymous sharing.

 

Although “Just took the nicest poop in the UU bathrooms” (with 200 upvotes) is probably not the desired goal of this multimillion dollar social media app dominating over 1600 college campuses, here we are.

 

 

Yeti is like Snapchat’s cooler cousin who drinks a lot of beer. A relatively new app rising in popularity due to its loose restrictions and college-based photo sharing.

 

 

For the most part, the content is pretty tame. Yeti features on any given day: (excessive) bongs, booty/workout pics, beer and one of the many prides of SLO, sunsets. It’s called ‘Yeti: Campus Stories’ for a reason: it’s nothing more than a campus wide snap story of a day in the lives of Cal Poly students, and has become quite a smashing success.

 

Yik Yak has been making mischief sexy since 2014 when it first gained popularity at Cal Poly - innocent trolling, mild self-deprecation, titillating questions, lame jokes, all behind the guise of anonymity.

 

 

These apps have created a social news stream, where any event on or around campus will almost always be announced, debated and parodied within the hour. This widespread dispersal of information has quietly created a more connected and open community, breaking the barriers of inclusivity.

 

An unexpected benefit of these apps, especially Yik Yak, is the discretion allowed to those whose posts are perceived as socially taboo. Those silently suffering from mental illness have found a place to openly say how they feel with no fear of immediate repercussions. Also, these posts often receive an overwhelming amount of support and offers to help.

 

 

On a lighter note, if you have a weird question that you don’t feel comfortable asking a friend or literally anyone you know, it can usually be answered in a quick post to Yik Yak; it’s as if the moment when names and profile pictures disappear, so does judgments.

 

Lastly, they lack the one-upmanship of Facebook. Let’s say a friend of yours posted a picture of their new baby on Facebook. All of the sudden, you have this insatiable need to have a baby whose finger paintings rival a Modigliani. It’s annoying and shameful, but inevitable; social media has turned us into competitors. But, when anonymous, we’re free from this pressure of success and a perfectly crafted life.

 

 

But what about when it’s not this wonderfully supportive land of lame jokes and cute puppies? There have been no serious occurrences at Cal Poly linked to these apps, but what about around the country?

 

On November 2nd at Fresno State a football player was arrested for threats made over Yik Yak. What about the incredible story unfolding at the University of Missouri? Racial threats being made over Yik Yak, adding to the growing tension on campus, eventually led to the school’s president Tim Wolfe’s resignation. Obviously this was never the intention for Yik Yak, but was this an inevitable manipulation of an app with so much influence?

 

And Yeti, the X-rated Snapchat. Although it is a newer app with fewer reported incidents, it's easy to see how the now innocent campus stories could go south very quickly; illegal pornography, drug busts and unadulterated bullying and abuse are just a few of the potential problems.

 

 

There’s something called the online disinhibition effect, a modern take on the Ring of Gyges. Proposed by psychologist John Suler, he states, “While online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” Two of the attributes he cites are anonymity and disinhibition which, when combined can often result in what school administrations and concerned parents fear most: rampant bullying, threats of violence and the promotion of dangerous and illegal activities.

 

Maria Konnikova, a writer for the New Yorker, offers an alternate effect of this anonymity. She cited studies proving that when anonymous, peers in a community were able to think critically and constructively, compared to face-to-face interaction. When the fear of personal damage is eliminated, creative thinking and risk taking flourish.

 

 

Who are you when it’s anonymous? Its curious to think about what people will and won’t do and say when there are no immediate repercussions. On Facebook and Instagram, you carefully construct the profile of yourself you wish the world to see. These include appropriate pictures from vacation or dinner with friends, witty and relevant news articles, funny comments on a friend’s picture and the occasional humble-brag. You care about how you are perceived because it is directly tied to your name and your online identity. So when given the chance to post with absolute invisibility, what version of ourselves do we present?

 

 

Above all else, these apps are an anonymous source of entertainment that connects students. When social inhibitions are shed, a more honest image of Cal Poly emerges, with both the good and the bad. Much can be speculated of these apps’ Icarian fate after the incidents reported in the past few months across the country. The Cal Poly Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities does not actively monitor any social media sites, and sees no need to take intervening action. So for now, we bow to the Yak and the Yeti, allowing these cultural phenomena to shape our ever-growing shared reality.