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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Learning from History: From Yik Yak to Whisper


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I recently saw a poster for the Whisper App in the loggia. It stated that the mobile application was “Just like Yik Yak.” Just like the sexist and racist comments on that app? Just like the slut shaming that happened on that platform? Just like the lack of consideration for the experience of victim-survivors which occurred on the banned app? The poster even highlighted the fact that the Whisper app has not been banned yet, thus implying the possibility of this app encouraging the same behavior that led to the banning of its predecessor.

For the students who felt attacked, embarrassed or offended by comments and posts on Yik Yak last year, posters like these are not tantalizing in any way. They most likely do not want the app. Last year, Yik Yak was used as a platform for hate speech. The campus was personally affected by the racist, sexist and overall ignorant posts and comments. Looking at what is currently happening at Yale, Mizzou and American University, it is clear that anonymous social media applications give people a vehicle through which they can spread hate without facing direct consequences. I know that the Whisper app, if used by certain students at Grinnell, will bring about the same hate speech as Yik Yak.

To those people who attacked students on Yik Yak last year and wish to do so on Whisper, I hope you find another college to attend. The Grinnell community is not perfect, but we are not a community that aspires to let hate spread freely without repercussion. Those attempts to target and oppress marginalized students did not work and will not stop us from receiving the benefits of and adding to this community. In an ideal world where everyone in the community is respectful of each other, apps like Yik Yak and Whisper have the potential to add value to the community, but as we exist now, it is used to break us apart. Out of respect for the people who will most likely be attacked on the Whisper app, I ask that you don’t use it, and if Whisper does become a thing, I hope it gets banned.

Dixon Romeo ’16

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    GrinnellianNov 14, 2015 at 7:34 am

    There’s one class of Yik Yak users you didn’t mention: those who didn’t post hate, downvoted any hate that appeared (such that it was generally voted off within minutes), and still appreciated the overall sense of community, platform for keeping up with happenings on campus, and anonymous support system that Yik Yak provided. As someone who was in said category of users, I really miss Yik Yak. I still disconnect from the campus wi-fi to check it every day, but of course, usage has gone way down, and while I haven’t seen any hate posted there recently, any of the positive impact of the app is gone too (and if somebody did choose to post hateful comments there now, they would likely take hours to be downvoted off rather than minutes).

    I understand the hurt that comes from seeing offensive comments such as the hateful ones that appeared on Yik Yak. I am a member of an ethnic/racial group that was regularly targeted. You’re right: such comments have a serious negative impact on our community, and that needs to be addressed.

    But the students (if they even were students, as it’s not a college-only app) who posted those comments are still here, and they still hate me (and you, and everybody else different from them). Covering it up and pretending everything’s great doesn’t help that. Clearly there is a problem with intolerance among a certain portion of our student population (as there is anywhere — Grinnell is far from unique in that regard). But taking away the platform where some of that intolerance was expressed (and where such intolerance was a small minority in comparison to the number of neutral or positive posts) does not address the underlying issue. I have continued to hear stereotypical or hateful remarks about my identity this year, and I’m sure that will continue for the rest of my life. I could go on any popular website and see the same comments (potentially from the same people!). Banning all of those platforms of communication is not a solution.

    If anything, the way hateful remarks were handled on Yik Yak made me proud to be a Grinnellian. Similar comments are regularly posted on the Yik Yak feed in my hometown. As I said, intolerance is far from unique to Grinnell (as you well know, of course). The difference is, when I saw hateful comments here in Grinnell, they were always downvoted within minutes. At home, they sat for hours or days, and sometimes were even upvoted. There are always going to be hateful individuals in our community. What shows the true strength of our community is the way we addressed them, and I saw nothing but true self-gov from the vast majority of users of Yik Yak here, both downvoting negative posts and offering support and love to the users affected by them.

    As far as the other benefits of Yik Yak I mentioned above, I’ve seen those in action as well. When I was feeling severely suicidal last fall, several Yik Yak users were able to provide me with hope and refer me to resources I likely would not have otherwise considered. I’ve seen several other people posting there with suicidal thoughts or other crises receive similar support. When you feel alone and don’t feel comfortable talking to anybody in person about what you’re going through, an “anonymous social media application,” which you seem to consider as only a potential vehicle for hate, could be the only place you might be able to reach out. (Note: I’m obviously not promoting Yik Yak as some sort of emergency counseling center or saying it should be your only source of support. But as a first step to getting further help, anonymous support can give you the encouragement you may need to reach out somewhere more appropriate, and refer you to other resources that may better serve you.) As someone who tends to be relatively socially isolated, Yik Yak also provided me with a way of seeing what was happening on campus that I didn’t otherwise get, which made me feel more connected to the campus community and less likely to completely cut myself off (something I’ve had more trouble with this semester). Beyond just my personal issues, though, Yik Yak in general was a place for Grinnellians to connect with each other as a community, have discussions on important issues with people outside of our immediate friend groups, and generally just share in each other’s daily lives in a way we really just don’t or can’t do elsewhere.

    I am in no way attempting to downplay the severity of the hateful comments that were posted on Yik Yak in the past. As I said, I was targeted by them as well. But banning any communication platform in which hateful speech can be spread will not solve the underlying problem — it will only serve to limit the platforms available to spread positivity, as well. We will never live “in an ideal world where everyone in the community is respectful of each other,” unfortunately, but it doesn’t make sense to use that as the criteria for banning a platform on which the vast majority of the content was, in fact, respectful. And the decision by the administration to dictate which websites and apps we are and aren’t allowed to access seems to me like a serious violation of our alleged policy of self-governance, and also seriously misguided in direction. Why can I still visit the Stormfront website but not Yik Yak? Which is more damaging, and which contains more hate? Where do you think the people posting hateful messages on Yik Yak get their ideas from? I’m not proposing that we ban all websites that have the potential to spread hate, but rather pointing out how ridiculous the concept of censoring our internet access is at all. And where hate isn’t expressed online, it finds plenty of ways to make its way into our offline lives. No amount of blocking websites will solve that, but it will restrict the platforms available to combat it.

    (For the record, though, I’ve used Whisper before and it sucks. I doubt it’s going to replace Yik Yak, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that Grinnellians will continue to be restricted in the anonymous communication of their thoughts.)