Opinion

Yik Yak: Fact or fiction?

 

The social media app, Yik Yak, has been an on and off again facet of campus life since its founding in 2013 and has gained a certain popularity at Castleton University. 

This small message board allows for people to post whatever they want to post, be it a searing hot take, a jab at student life, or a piece of information. It is that last piece that is the focal point here. 

Simply put, Yik Yak is completely unvetted.

There is no stop gap on what is said or spread there. In some instances, it can be funny. For example, there are numerous inside jokes propagated on the app that target freshmen who simply don’t know any better. 

A recurring instance of this misinformation spreading revolves around “Hatchback”, a non-existent party house that is somehow throwing parties every weekday and weekend. The constant questioning of where this nonexistent place is, admittedly, quite funny. 

Another time, a person named Andy was entirely conjured up, solely to spread that he partied to death at the rumored Hatchback. What followed was an outpouring of grief for this fake individual.

These are relatively harmless jokes, meant to confuse and make those in-the-know laugh. There is no coyote wandering around campus, nor a toe-sucking homeless man. 

Where the danger comes in is when harmful misinformation is propagated.

People often forget that Yik Yak was shut down in 2017 due to the swarm of death threats and racist behavior on college campuses. It was completely unfiltered, a true wild west. 

When it was relaunched, people reminisced on those days, but the craziness seemed to be in the past. However, as Yik Yak has surged, so has harmful messaging. 

Recently, there were rumors that Fireside was being shut down permanently. This propagated so widely that the staff there had to physically hang up signage. One post caused this ridiculous chain of events. 

And though this was more inconvenient than anything, it isn’t always this harmless. 

The rumor of campus cat, Max, being hit by a semi-truck spread across campus like wildfire last spring, prompting an editorial on the subject by author Jasmin Gomez in the Castleton Spartan. 

The owner was genuinely fearful for her cat’s safety, and rightly so.

When enough people are spamming “RIP Max” it becomes an echo chamber giving off the illusion of truth. Thankfully this wasn’t true, but the emotional stress this caused was honestly just cruel. 

As time has gone on, especially with the newly implemented video feature, these fake stories have become more intense. 

Another recent post a few weeks back spread the rumor of a man who was supposedly struck by lightning on campus, complete with a video that looked as though it could’ve been taken at Castleton. 

Though this was recorded off a laptop from a news story in 2019 in San Antonio, Texas, it looked real enough to entirely dominate the feed for several hours. I remember hearing whispers about it in class, as people talked about an entirely fabricated story believing it to be true. 

Here lies the problem with Yik Yak. Content is not segregated. Satire and truth intermingle in a confusing mess. 

It is impossible to tell them apart, especially if you are an incoming student that hasn’t been exposed to the inside jokes. 

As such, freshmen wander the dark looking for the mythical Hatchback, and those of us aware of the rumor are still left confused. 

After all, when you can’t tell what’s real and what’s fake apart, both options look equally convincing.