Yik Yak, the journalist’s new friend?
AllTheContent/ @Yik Yak/ Twitter
Yik Yak was launched in 2013 as a kind of anonymous, geo-located Twitter app and took the world by storm before more recently whipping up an equally big storm of controversy. For some people, this app frees up speech and this makes it a valuable journalistic tool – for others it is simply a gigantic digital rant room.
Let us start with its opponents. Yik Yak acts like a bulletin board for anonymous messages – Yaks – written by ‘yakkers’ within a 1.5-mile radius. The app offers an ideal platform for addressing other people in the immediate environment… but also for posting gossip and cruel messages. It has become a ‘gossip app’ on American campuses creating considerable havoc. In Atlanta, for example, the suicide attempt of a student at Woodward Academy generated a host of nasty comments, with some ‘yakkers’ going so far as to encourage the girl ‘not to fail’ the next time.
There have also been school-shooting threats and digital bullying of teachers. To fight against this misuse, Yik Yak has set up geo-fences: a filter now prevents full names from being posted in order to prevent cyber-bullying by name, and yakkers are invited to report offensive messages which are removed from the timeline after five reports.
However, in the view of a number of reporters, Yik Yak has a major advantage: the app is anonymous so it reveals what people really think and offers fast, authentic information. Kevin Roose, an American journalist and senior editor of Fusion.net, believes that the app could have helped him enormously with one of his previous reports.
In 2007, Roose spent a semester investigating and obtaining evidence from students at Liberty University, an evangelical and ultra-conservative Christian School in Lynchburg in Virginia. However, on 23 March, all that reporters at Liberty University had to do was connect to Yik Yak to get the students’ real (very negative) opinions on the occasion of a visit by Republican Senator and 2016 presidential candidate, Ted Cruz.
Roose believes that access to ‘back channels’ such as these would have made all his tedious work ‘as simple as simply opening an app’ which would have taken him a total of ‘five minutes’ instead of four months.
Yik Yak is instantaneous and authentic and this is what reporters like about it – and they are about to like it even more. Poynter.org has noted that according to Jason Gilbert, technology editor of Yahoo Tech, in the presidential elections of 2016, the app will be ‘the go-to source for Vox Populi quotes’. Yik Yak in the future could very well overshadow other social media platforms becoming their ‘unfiltered evil twin’.
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