Why Dickinson needs YikYak: In Defense of DickYak

“The people.” 

It’s the answer everyone gives. Ask any Dickinsonian blessed/burdened with one-day control of the college Instagram Story what their most favorite part of The Dickinson College Experience is, they will say, without fail, the people. It’s the safe option, sure—no other part of Dickinson gets offended if you don’t pick it—but I believe it every time. After all, the people are my favorite part, too! My friends, my professors—after only a month I feel like a member of the community. And nowhere is that community more apparent, more crystallized, than on YikYak. 

For those who don’t know, YikYak is a social media app where anonymous users can post and read messages to and from other users within a 5-mile radius. You can also like and dislike posts and comment. The app first launched in 2013, enjoying a gangbuster couple of years before widespread complaints of cyberbullying forced it to remove its anonymous feature—its defining feature, the reason for its success. It shut down soon after. But now, five years later, it’s back and in its original state. The people are once again Yakking in droves, especially the app’s most historically loyal demographic: college students. Dickinsonians are no exception. 

YikYak is all about anonymity—there’s no getting around that. For better (as I maintain) or for worse, the app was popular then and is popular now because any post could come from anyone. Anyone, that is, within that 5-mile radius, and this is, I think, the key distinction, the YikYak secret sauce. When you Yak, the only thing other users know about you is that you are, at least at the time of posting, in their same general area. And so a sort of reduction of identity takes place: you are nothing but a New Yorker, an Angeleno, a Chicagoan—a Dickinsonian. All anyone talks about on Dickinson YikYak—DickYak—is stuff that, in one way or another, relates back to Dickinson. And why wouldn’t we? It’s the only thing we have in common. Each of our identities is collectively reduced to that of the nameless, faceless “Dickinson Student.” But in this reduction, there is also reinforcement. The times I feel most like a Dickinsonian are the times when I’m posting or commenting on YikYak, because there, that’s the only thing I can be. It is the ultimate form of community. 

And, like all communities, there are some jerks. The world will never want for some jerks. The issue is how many jerks and how much they are tolerated, or even supported, by the spaces they occupy. YikYak has struggled with this in the past, no doubt. They lost hundreds of millions of dollars because they couldn’t regulate themselves. But I doubt they’ll want to lose that much again, and indeed their relaunch comes with a company promise of zero tolerance—“One strike and you’re out,” as they put it. Do they really care? Well, I don’t think any company really cares about anything, but I know humans do. YikYak agrees: another new safeguard implemented by the app is that any Yak with -5 downvotes is instantly removed from the feed. So, in the end, it’s mostly all up to the people. And me, personally? I like the people.