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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Gina Rhinestone
9 years ago

I read the blog on the site – one written jan 29 2015 .

It states you must be 17+ to join & 85% of high schools are geo fenced .

It says they have developed language recognition partnerships but that in the end it is the local users that rate whether a comment stays up .

Older people might not like what Is written but it is primarily a college age app & environment . They are responsible for their lives & how they want to interact . Lapses ought be allowed & not pounced on . We all say things we might later re think on our own – to deny young adults this chance is… Read more »

9 years ago


What are your thoughts to solve this issue? While bullying in any situation is unacceptable, it is also something that will occur in some shape or form. To completely ban an app seems ridiculous, (to me at least) while the phone on deck policy is only as useful as it is enforced. Personally, I believe this is one issue that is only as big as we make it.

Reply to  Franco Pacheco
9 years ago


I agree that one athlete (or any individual) being bullied is one too many, and the anonymity of the app makes targeting all too easy. I believe the best solution at the moment is to tackle the issue as a community. By encouraging healthy/un-targeted posts, we open up an exchange of thoughts, jokes, opinions, and even updates on current events in the surrounding area. We need to have each other’s backs. If that means reporting or “down voting” every mean yak, than that’s what we need to do. The swimming community is full of hard working, dedicated individuals, and with that comes ethics and morals accumulated over time. I do not believe that we should attempt any type of… Read more »

9 years ago

Ive seen head coach sponsored bullying directed against former team members, it just makes me sick. Sometimes bullying in swimming is not so anonymous. While the bullying has stopped, poor sportsmanship against former team members has not. Not sure if USA Swimming has a policy covering this, but the kids on this team are learning terrible life lessons.

9 years ago

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

Any sources for the suicide statement?

9 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.

9 years ago

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

Reply to  Rhi Jeffrey
9 years ago

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

Dean Ottati
9 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 »

9 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.

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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