yik yak logoThe anonymous social media service, Yik Yak, has come under some fire from all corners recently. It is has been at the centre of claims about some quite horrifying examples of bullying and harassment of University staff and students.

Yik Yak is an anonymous message posting service. It allows users to post ‘yaks’ to others within a small geographic area, usually centred around universities and colleges. There is also the option to ‘Follow a herd’ that allows users to still interact with their university ‘herd’ despite being geographically separated, such as during holidays.

Posts on Yik Yak can be commented on (also anonymously) as well as voted either up or down. Once a yak receives five negative down-votes, it is automatically removed from the public feed. Yaks that receive a large number of up-votes are listed in both a user’s “new” and “hot” feeds.

Most of the posts fall into four categories that cover: discussing student life, jokes, attention seeking, and soliciting ‘entertainment’.

Eric Stoller has written extensively about social media, and Yik Yak in particular.

So what does this mean for Lincoln? Recently, at the request of the Student Union Council (reported by The Linc ), the University blocked access to Yik Yak’s service through the University’s wireless and wired networks. Students and staff shouldn’t have to fear being abused online, but I don’t agree with a blanket ban.

I have four main reasons against the banning of Yik Yak:

1. Yik Yak is just a tool

A tool that allows society to play out its activities in a slightly different way, but a tool nonetheless. It is a mirror or facsimile of our society, but the use of that technology does not define us

2. Banning doesn’t prevent it happening

It just makes it slightly more difficult. Any student can turn off their WiFi and access the service through their mobile network connection

3. Community exercise control

If bullying or anti-social behaviour occurs, then we, as a community, need to combat this. Yik Yak has one benefit over the ‘old-skool face-to-face’ bullying that was hidden, even though the author is anonymous, the message is published for all to see. I don’t see this as a freedom of speech issue, I see this very much as an opportunity for the majority to stand up against the bullies. I don’t want our community to be afraid to stand up to the types of negative behaviours that caused the system to be banned in the first place

4. It ignores the potential positive uses of the service

Indeed there have been a number of interesting cases were universities have embraced the anonymity of Yik Yak and used it to their advantage. Lecturers respond to criticism they receive to start a dialogue, allowing discussion about embarrassing issues such as sexual health in a lecture, a marketing department dealing with student complaints, or even the Wellbeing service identifying people in need of support and directing them to their services

The Students Union has just embarked on a project to get students to think about how they are represented on social media called Show Your Best Side, which highlights how visible our online presence is to others, especially potential employers.

Irresponsible and disreptful use of social media can have a lasting negative effect on others. With more and more employers using it to research candidates, it can also have a detrimental effect on your career prospects

Managing your online presence is a key part of Digital Capabilities, and in particular the Digital identity and wellbeing element.

This whole argument comes down to having a better understanding of our behaviours in a digital environment. It is easy to be a keyboard warrior and vent our anger and frustration, which we all do from time to time, but we with the privilege of opportunity to speak our will also comes the responsibility to act fairly and conscientiously. It is up to you, as a member of an online community, to help manage the behaviours of others if they are unacceptable, not simply ban access.

So I am suggesting we lift the ban, and we take responsibility for actively managing our space. If you are student, can you take a stand against the bullies? If you are a lecturer, how can you use Yik Yak in your sessions to allow completely open discussions?

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