Yik Yak Reveals the Ugly Side of Swimming – Shout From the Stands

The articles in our “Shouts From the Stands” series are not written by SwimSwam and are not necessarily our opinions, however we believe they are well argued points from our readers. If you have a Shout you would like to share, please send them to [email protected]

This Swimming Opinion is courtesy of Franco Pacheco. You can follow him here @fdpache

Yik Yak is the popular social media app that allows users to post commentary also known as Yaks anonymously. The users GPS location is used to determine a radius and that the user can view, comment, and rate comments occurring locally in real time. It is a phone app that has spread quickly across college campuses and high schools.

While the app is intended to be a flowing message board for observation and social commentary, in recent occasions it has turned into a playground for base urges and impulses.

In what has been an amazing conference championship season, an elephant has been sneaking onto the deck.

Yik Yak features an ability to “peek” that allows any person with the app to view feeds from anywhere. In looking into locations for ten separate college championship meets occurring this past weekend and despite many teams in the college ranks adopting a “no phones on deck” policy, the Yik Yak boards of hosting locations have been inundated with a flow of messages. More often than not, these messages include bullying posts targeting an individual athlete, racial and homophobic slurs, and perhaps worst, they serve to give anyone in the radius an unflattering view of the sport and its competitors. It is clear that this a situation where several bad apples can ruin the whole, but that doesn’t excuse the behavior; the offensive posts often had “up-votes” in the high twenties.

While some may argue that the ability to bully via digital means has long existed, the prominence of the app and its quick-fire, zero consequence build has sped up and highlighted the reprehensible.

The app itself has a built in system of rating and reporting that should theoretically police its content. However, the reporting function can be slow moving, and the ability to “down-vote” can be countered with “up-votes.” This means even if a yak is truly offensive and targeted at an individual, it can have a significant viewing life if enough people decide to look the other way. Founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington have begun the process of geofencing high school and middle schools around the country while also developing bots to spot common slurs and phrases. While these are steps in the right directions, it does nothing to prevent the act of bullying and social media based harassment at championship meets located at college campuses or community pools.

While proverbial thick skin is a necessity of growing up in a world dominated by social media and the idiom of ‘sticks and stones’ has existed in vernacular for decades, there is a natural saturation point for any individual.

Yik Yak has already been linked to cyberbullying and connected to several cases of attempted suicide. How long until the tragedy strikes the swimming community? With a recent Emory College study showing suicide as the third-leading cause of death in the 15-24 age range, this could be a quick reality. Moreover, how does it reflect on a growing athletic community when a collection of the sport’s best and brightest come together to produce of such a heightened level ugliness?

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6 years ago

the headline is nothing like the story. headlines makes one believe it has happened and article only speculates what might happen (very vaguely).

Reply to  jman
6 years ago

jman – actually, the story talks about that it has been happening very early on.

This has absolutely been happening, at every swim meet I’ve been to, and it’s brutal.

Reply to  Braden Keith
6 years ago

Franco and Braden, if you mean hurtful and demeaning comments from parents in the stands and swimmers on the deck, i agree. But i sit on the board of a very large midwest club and we deal with this stuff all the time. I have never been told of Yik-Yak so that is my comment. We have developed a very strong social media use stance in our club and enforce it. I under stand this app is anonymous and that makes it more difficult to enforce….but i don’t see the examples of Yik-Yak in our club or in the article. I think it might be helpful for us to see how this works and maybe an example (even if fictional).… Read more »

say what?
Reply to  Braden Keith
6 years ago

Please explain what is brutal? So someone in the stands post a comment about some swimming that is negative? There has not been any examples given of what exactly is going on other than people being mean on social media. The article never mentions specifically why this particularly effecting swim meets.

Steve Nolan
6 years ago

This is here nor there, but – one of the co-founders names is “Brooks Buffington?!”

Kid sounds like he’d have grown up playing polo

Brooks Buffington
Reply to  Steve Nolan
6 years ago

Want to make fun of my name?$ Please use Yik Yak ™!$ You can slam me anonymously!$

CT Swim Fan
6 years ago

Was something like this really necessary? What exactly is the point? Slamming others to make yourself feel good? No doubt it’s anonymous as these cyber bullies are the biggest cowards on earth.

6 years ago

At So Cal area meets I have not personally seen any bullying such as described in this article. Some out in the open or behind the back Schadenfreude, yes, but no outright bullying or slurs.

Dean Ottati
6 years ago


What an interesting article. Yik Yak came into my consciousness only recently. But it raises a very old set of questions.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates tells the story of the Ring of Gyges, where when the wearer puts it on, he becomes invisible, and he can do anything without getting caught. Socrates basically asks both, how would we behave with such power, and how should we behave with such power? Are there consequences for bad action even if no one will ever know and we never get caught?

Socrates claims there are, but it requires a certain amount of examination and self awareness to understand what they might be. Seems that in the face of some of these new… Read more »

6 years ago

This has definitely been a prominent thing at New England swim meets.

Reply to  Rhi Jeffrey
6 years ago

This has definitely been a prominent thing at New England swim meets. So I can tell you it’s very real.

6 years ago

Rather than the “ugly side of swimming,” I would call this the ugly side of society. Casting blame or responsibility onto an app shows that people don’t understand that negative things like insults are merely spread over yik-yak, not created by it. If you go into locker rooms, you can sometimes hear people saying the same things. The only reason attention is brought to yik yak is that it solidifies what people may think or say into text.

6 years ago

“Yik Yak has already been linked to cyberbullying and connected to several cases of attempted suicide.”

Any sources for the suicide statement?

About Franco Pacheco

Franco Pacheco

Franco Pacheco Franco is entering his first season as the new Head Coach at Saint Norbert College in De Pere, WI. The Green Knights recently resurrected the women's program and are creating a new men's program. Both teams will first compete in the 2018-2019 season. He swam at the College of Saint …

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