On race and the anonymity of Yik Yak

Ashley Shan

Content warning: This article includes references to and quotations from hateful comments.

If you’ve ever found yourself perusing Yik Yak, an anonymous discussion app, you’ve probably come across some of the hallmark traits of Williams College “yakking”: the occasional clever quip about workload, some derisive comments about the social scene, analysis of Sawyer decorum (seems like the third level gets freaky?), and lots of people being horny. And when I say lots, I mean lots.

More recently, however, another trend has been rising on Yik Yak: racism.

Hours after Asian American Students in Action (AASiA) chalked Paresky steps to protest in support of an Asian American studies program with verbiage like “I shouldn’t have to starve myself for Ethnic Studies” and “Two courses for 13 percent of the College???,” a comment appeared on Yik Yak mocking the students’ efforts.

“Its [sic] so cool when kids protest with colored chalk infront [sic] of Resky [laughing emoji],” the anonymous post wrote.

After AASiA hung posters up around campus, advocating for the ethnic studies program, another anonymous user posted, “NOT every single student needs asian american studies.”

I understand the arguments that proponents of online anonymity often use — sure, these comments don’t happen every day, and free speech is usually good. But where do we draw the line? Are we, as a campus, OK with the tradeoff of a few humorous posts for comments that belittle the actions of others on campus? In all honesty, the app does more than just belittle others — it’s actively problematic. 

“I love Korea / I love Japan / Let’s live in peace and respect each other,” one user posted. 

“I would respect j**s if they didn’t make my grandparents into orphans,” replied a user with a bomb emoji alias. “Goddamn j**s with their robots and uncooked fish,” another user with a meat emoji alias replied. 

Anonymity does not immediately equate to evil, but when anonymity lends itself to slurs and racist speech, it’s clear that it provides a shield for users on the app. It is this feature that allows students to post whatever they want, without accountability for what they are saying, and, most importantly, to avoid seeing the impact their words have on the individuals they’re targeting. 

Why should individuals have the unbridled freedom to say slurs and share race-based hate without any consequence? The luxury of self-privacy on Yik Yak has allowed for cowards to hide behind screens with the ability to laugh off any perceived consequences of their words, revealing what most minority students at Williams already knew: Students at a campus that is supposedly progressive are secretly hiding very problematic views of their own peers. 

Moments after a mass email regarding multiple racist graffiti incidents around campus, another comment was posted to Yik Yak. “Oh no a hate crime! Please don’t report me to the ad [hoc] committee,” one user wrote. 

If anything, these Yik Yak posts prove that the fight for ethnic studies at the College must continue — how can Williams be the number one liberal arts college in the nation when students are clearly unable to engage with an understanding of other cultures and groups? This nuance is needed to combat ignorance on campus and can no longer be unaccounted for in our curriculum. For both minority students and those in the majority, courses on ethnic studies are necessary to provide spaces to learn and grow. 

I want to be clear. I know that the individuals who posted these comments on Yik Yak likely won’t change their mindsets, nor will they become more empathetic to the plight that marginalized students face on this campus every day. But to everyone spreading hate on Yik Yak, know that your speech isn’t as protected as you believe: law enforcement has successfully subpoenaed Yik Yak to find the phone numbers connected to specific college students’ posts, de-anonymizing users and linking them to their comments. 

If you wouldn’t say it to our faces, don’t say it online. 

Ashley Shan ’26 is from Dallas, Texas.