Social Media

Yik Yak, Anonymous Social Media App, Is Becoming Less Anonymous

The social platform has added personal handles and a chat feature—and many users aren't happy

Social Media
Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Apr 25, 2016 at 6:20 PM ET

Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app often criticized for encouraging cyberbullying, is making an effort to diminish anonymity and harassment with new updates.

The location-based social platform, which is used widely on college campuses, allows users to anonymously post messages and upvote and downvote other posts. Throughout the app’s rise in popularity since its launch in 2013, the creators have struggled to find a balance between amplifying the voices of the disenfranchised and censoring hate speech and threats that can have an especially chilling effect when posted to a localized online community.

Yik Yak was lambasted in the fall after someone at the University of Missouri was arrested for posting death threats like, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.” This wasn’t the first time that people have used Yik Yak to post such threats, but the media focus on local Black Lives Matter protests at the time drew national attention to the case.

The company has made some attempts over the last couple years to make the app safer. For instance, geofencing disables the app on high school and middle school campuses, where kids are likely underage, and users are warned when they try to post certain words, like “Jewish” or “bomb.” Last month, the app started allowing users to create personal handles and on Monday, the company took another step away from anonymity by allowing users to direct message each other.

In a blog post announcing the newest update, Yik Yak suggests chatting would assist crowdsourced acts of kindness, like returning found items or gifting a “beloved campus employee.” Currently, users are not required to adopt a handle or use the chatting feature, so they can still post anonymously, but these updates seem to discourage people from Yik-ing namelessly into the local void with trolling, potentially harmful Yaks.

Along with the new chatting feature, Yik Yak also launched a Safety Center, which provides “ways to maintain a positive experience.” That page includes resources for bullying and suicide prevention and contains four sections that provide guidance for colleges and universities, educators and parents, users and law enforcement.

The chat feature is already helping many Yakers connect—thought not in the way the company probably intended. So far, most users are uniting in their dissatisfaction with the update.