By Gus Hoffmann
Yik Yak is a social media platform with an interesting history. It grew up together with Snapchat – it came out in 2013, a year after Snapchat was released on the App Store. Both of these apps gained traction amongst young people as there was a certain allure to anonymous posting and messages that deleted. However, as both platforms grew in popularity, their prominence and reputation diverged. Snapchat took measures to keep users more accountable, combated concerns over bullying, and adapted their platform as people raised concerns. On the flip side, Yik Yak was known to enable bullying, and it was a method for individuals to anonymously post hate speech, target groups, and call out individuals. I remember when I was a freshman in high school (back in 2014), the administration banned the app on campus, and they actually tracked down people using their VPN to suspend people posting unfriendly things on Yik Yak.
When Yik Yak began to grow in popularity this year at Denison, I was surprised because I thought the app had disappeared into the depths of the App Store and was largely forgotten. However, to my surprise, Yik Yak rebranded by implementing software that can detect if posts “Violate the Yik Yak community guidelines.” We at 127 were curious just how popular Yik Yak is and if there were any trends with who uses Yik Yak. Denison’s administration goes to great lengths to get a better understanding of how Denisonians are feeling, but oftentimes students are hesitant to provide feedback. However, Yik Yak and its anonymity feature allow users to post raw comments regarding really anything. To paraphrase one Yik Yak that I saw: “Why does Denison send out these pulse surveys when they could just look at Yik Yak?”
As a result of Yik Yak’s new guidelines, and possibly boredom, Yik Yak has reemerged at Denison and is used by just over 50% of the February survey respondents – just about as many students on Twitter. This seems like a lot given that it is location-based and the content is completely created by its own users. In contrast, social media giants like Instagram and Youtube have millions of content creators and Denison students do not need to create anything on those platforms (but obviously some people still do). It seems that our student body is entertained by our peers’ opinions, complaints, and observations. Even if somebody does not have Yik Yak, it’s likely a friend does. Therefore, even if individuals do not have the app itself, they are likely aware of upvoted posts on the platform.
Is only a certain slice of campus Yik Yak users? The wide range of users at Denison does not follow a particular trend. In terms of classic demographic factors, there is no gender gap when it comes to who posts and comments on Yik Yak, no link to race, and no correlation to class. For more college-based student demographics, there were also no trends within the data: no link to GPA, drinking/drug use, and no association with use of other social media. The only small correlation we could find is that people who are involved in more student groups tend to post slightly more than those not part of student organizations. However, with Denison being home to 160 different student organizations, it’s hard to find someone who is not in a club, greek life, or sports team. In a way, it’s a good thing that there are basically no student demographic trends in Yik Yak involvement and it seems no single group dominates conversation on the app. The users come from a wide range of backgrounds, creating a window into a wide range of views and perspectives from people that represent different demographics at Denison. Rather than sending out a pulse survey that struggles with feedback, maybe Denison Admin should just get on the app themselves.
In terms of what people do on Yik Yak, most people just lurk around and see what other people are posting. As you can see in the graph below, over 80% lurk, while ~65% of Yik Yak users upvote other people’s posts, while only ~55% users downvote. Interestingly, people upvote more than they downvote – I don’t know much about social psychology, but maybe people just like to “like” things more than they like to dislike things. Just about ~50% of people reported that they post on Yik Yak, which is interesting because it’s completely anonymous. Maybe some people just feel no pressure to post, or just prefer to scroll through what other people are posting. Lastly, around ~45% of people comment on posts. Unlike on Instagram, there is no social pressure to comment on friends’ posts.
From this survey data, only around a quarter of 127 survey respondents create content on Yik Yak. Those individuals likely enjoy that aspect of Yik Yak and I would guess they also have Twitter – maybe they save the more controversial content for Yik Yak where their name is not tied to their thoughts. Unlike twitter however, Yik Yak is based on a given radius – users decide how many posts they want to see in a given area. The standard radius that is set when you install the app is 5 miles. It may be concerning to realize that Granville highschoolers/middle schoolers would likely see the posts that Denison students upload to Yik Yak.
Is Yik Yak just an “old people” thing? Maybe those in the Granville school system are more drawn to Tik Tok, which has done an amazing job brainwashing younger audiences. Overall, Yik Yak has a lot of competition with other popular social media platforms. Likely, Denison students who use Yik Yak now do not check the app when they are home or when they graduate. However, at Denison, Yik Yak is a great tool to gauge and engage with important topics within the Denison community.
Gus Hoffmann is Global Commerce major at Denison University, following graduation he will be moving to Boston and beginning a career in commercial real estate.