Yak checking

I’m writing this op-ed because I care.

What is it I care about? All manner of soft cheeses. House Stark. Videos of manatees smushing their fat faces into aquarium glass. And you, students of the College. I want to see you on Yik Yak less.

I’m not the first one to say it and I hope I won’t be the last: The anonymous gossip cesspool of Yik Yak is changing the way we communicate, and not for the better.

It’s boring to complain about the struggles of the digital age, and I think it would be a mistake to characterize this particular problem as a purely modern one. Gossip is nothing new; talking about other people is a big part of how humans communicate, and it always has been. Back in the day, I assume people carved their gossip into stone tablets with mammoth bones and passed them around the fire.

I have to give Yik Yak credit for what its creators think it’s doing. Its most recent ad promises to help people “find [their] herd.” It features a guy in a full-on magician costume, looking defeated, sitting on the steps of what is either a university or municipal building. He Yaks: “Any other magicians out there?” And I guess he finds some magicians. It’s not even worth digging deeper into the horror-movie potential of wandering the streets in search of anonymous magicians. Helping people find friends is not what Yik Yak really does.

One day while working at Mount Greylock Regional High School, I saw some seventh graders on Yik Yak. They weren’t just on their school’s Yik Yak, which I’m sure is full of wholesome vitriol about which member of One Direction is cutest. (The answer used to be Zayn. This is a confusing time.) Due to an accident of geography, they could also see our Yaks, a notion that doesn’t exactly fill me with pride. This experience had a lasting and harrowing effect on my psyche.

Because posts on Yik Yak are anonymous and instant and because they gain momentum and staying power according to their popularity, the “information” shared is not subject to verification. I could post anything at any time, and as long as it contains a reference to two-ply toilet paper, I can bask anonymously in my fifteen minutes of fame. Sometimes that’s fine. Most of Yik Yak is indeed innocuous. But every once in a while, a conversation that could actually be interesting if held out in the open will appear and disappear like a humpback whale surfacing from the deep. More often, something reaches the light of day that really shouldn’t. As your professors should have told you at some point, not every thought deserves its day in the sun.

I’ve never been the subject of a Yak, though now I expect I will be (do your nefarious worst, lonely magicians!). But I believe that the rules of engagement in an argument are just as important as the arguments themselves. There’s a place for anonymous commentary. At its best, anonymity can make people feel comfortable in expressing unpopular opinions. At its worst, anonymity allows people to post content that just isn’t true or else is so hideous that you stop to wonder which rotting barrel it was scraped up from. You see my dilemma.

I guess what I’m saying is this: You have a right to voice your opinions in almost any manner you choose. After all, that’s what I’m doing here. I’m just suggesting that we collectively pick a better manner or at least begin to shift away from this broken one. There’s so much this community has to offer and so much it must fix. People respond best to other people, not to their disembodied, disowned opinions. 

I humbly proffer this very newspaper as an outlet for your thoughts. Whatever your opinions on the Record, it checks a lot more facts than Yik Yak.

If you disagree … well, you know my name.

Natalee Dawson ’15 is an English major from Tucson, Ariz. She lives in Hubbell.

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