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]
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?