September 4, 2014

Cornell Students Use App to ‘Yak,’ Gossip

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By ZOE FERGUSON

Cornellians say Yik Yak — the social media app that allows users to anonymously create and view posts — is maintaining a strong presence around campus as a gossip medium, despite national concerns about its use for cyberbullying.

Yik Yak co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington — who graduated from South Carolina’s Furman College in 2013 — said in an interview with The Sun that the app is “the virtual version of a city’s central plaza or campus bulletin board.”

“Until now college students haven’t had a way to communicate with their whole campus,” Droll and Buffington said. “An alternative to other social apps, Yik Yak provides a highly local forum for anyone to post about events or news in their immediate area.”

Posts on Yik Yak — called “yaks” — are anonymous and visible only to other users within 1.5 miles of the poster, according to Droll and Buffington.

Some Cornellians say that college users take advantage of the app to post gossip and negative comments about their peers, especially those involved the Greek system, according to Kyra Visnick ’17.

Visnick said she thinks the app is used primarily as a “gossip medium” that targets certain campus groups.

“Yik Yak started out as a pretty harmless, funny app, but as it gained popularity, it started to pinpoint certain people and became a way to target different groups or organizations on campus,” Visnick said.

She added that a lot of the content on the app consists of Greek organizations criticizing one another.

“Most of the content on Yik Yak now is different Greek organizations pointing out why other [fraternities] or sororities are worse than they are,” Visnick added.

Michaela Elliott ’17 said she thinks that the amount of gossip on Yik Yak has decreased this school year.

“I feel like more people talked trash about the Greek system on it last year than they do this year,” she said.

Elliott added that she believes Cornell’s yaks are witty, in comparison to those from her hometown.

“Where I am from, people trash talk specific people all the time [on Yik Yak,] which isn’t funny,” Elliott said. “Here [at Cornell], most of the yaks are witty and not mean to individual people.”

Instead of personal attacks, most posts are “just funny stuff that people are Cornell can relate to,” Elliott said.

One post from Thursday afternoon read, “After a rough freshman year and debating whether I should transfer or not, I’m glad I stayed in Cornell.”

Cameron Pritchett ’15, president of the Cornell Interfraternity Council said the large social influence of the Greek system comes with responsibility, with regards to using the app.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, the Greek system is often a vehicle to popularize ideas and concepts across the entire campus,” Pritchett said.

Additionally, founders Droll and Buffington emphasized the local focus of the app. Though the app is not the only anonymous social sharing app, it is “unique” for its potential to communicate with people locally.

“Yik Yak is the social messaging app for hyper-local engagement,” said Droll and Buffington. According to the founders, the app provides users with “an avenue to engage” with social communities in their immediate vicinity.

Students at high schools and colleges across the country have been using Yik Yak since its launch in November.

The app drew attention recently when a student at Emory and Henry College posted a death threat directed towards freshman students on the app late Tuesday night. The student, Charles Wygal, surrendered himself to authorities on Wednesday, according to News 5 WCYB.

Wygal has been charged with a misdemeanor for using a computer to harass or threaten another person and could face up to a year behind bar — raising national concerns about the apps use for cyberbullying, according to WCYB.

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