Yik Yak takes steps to fight anonymous harassment. But does it go far enough?
It's no secret that some teenagers are incapable of using anonymous services without threatening violence against their schools, harassing their teachers, or bullying their peers. Now the question is, as people get older are they more likely to use these services without becoming assholes? Or is it inevitable that these services devolve into cess pools of bad behavior, regardless of the users' ages?
Yik Yak bet on the former. The company banned its anonymous service from high schools across the country and changed its App Store rating to 17-plus, after it was used in many of the ways described above. It then focused on universities, where it might be able to find older -- and presumably more mature -- users for its service.
The company's efforts to improve its service go farther than its competition. Some companies don't seem to care about the risks associated with anonymous services, or continue to target high school students even after their services were used to post threats. Yik Yak should be applauded for doing something to address these issues.
But a new report from the New York Times shows that college students aren't more mature than their high school counterparts. Students from across the United States have used Yik Yak to post bomb threats, derogatory comments about professors, or hurtful comments about other students. Dickishness, it seems, isn't shed with age.
This problem isn't exclusive to Yik Yak. Twitter, which has been around for much longer than Yik Yak, has struggled to respond to its own harassment problem, especially from pseudonymous accounts. Hate can be found anywhere people are allowed to type something into a text box, hit "Send," and have their words suddenly appear in front of another person's eyes.
So how much more can Yik Yak -- and anonymous services in general -- do to prevent people from being assholes? By targeting an older demographic and responding to legitimate threats, there isn't much more Yik Yak can do -- Besides completely removing anonymity from its service, which obviously won't happen.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]