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Nina In New York: App Which Promises Anonymous Posting Leads to Mayhem, Surprises No One

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

News hit this week about a new app called Yik Yak, which provides a forum in which people can post anonymous messages to other nearby users.

Unfortunately, it has attracted national attention because it's being used by kids to bully other kids on a whole new vicious level, as well as by psychopaths who are seizing the opportunity to threaten school shootings and other acts of terrifying violence. Parents and school officials across the country are upset, naturally, and the app's 23-year-old developers are reportedly working to figure out a solution to this distressing development.

Well what. The eff. Did they think was going to happen?

Boy, I can't imagine what precedent they could have studied in order to possibly predict the types of people who might be drawn to this level of utter anonymity and the tenor of conversation which they'd be likely to start. Let's see. Perhaps . . . the Internet? Maybe the developers are too young to have ever read a YouTube comment thread before their policies changed to make posting more transparent. Let me clue them in: they are THE WORST. I know people bristle at that all too common exaggeration, but I mean it. YouTube was a prime example, but pretty much any site that allows people to post anonymously becomes a virtual water cooler where humanity's angriest, surliest, most frustrated, violent, racist, anti-Semitic and illiterate dregs congregate to fight with one another and spew vitriol so rabid and unhinged that it makes you want to shut your computer, pack a bag and move to the remote Yukon.

The Los Angeles Times found a quote from one of the founders in the app's initial press release, which serves to explain how the creators thought their app would be used: "We created Yik Yak to give college students a private platform for communicating with their entire campus . . . Yakkers have used the app to find a place to crash, report lost and found items and alert other students about deals at nearby bars."

Why does anonymity enhance this concept? And doesn't every college have closed campus network message boards and listservs and whatever newfangled things kids at college can do nowadays? If you need a place to crash, wouldn't you need to identify yourself and similarly know who is offering their futon and where it can be found? Are students now so lazy that they can't sniff out a drink deal at a local bar without signing up for an anonymous texting app? If any of the bars around my former campus were ever offering a deal (which they weren't, because Boston), news would have spread miles in minutes. And none of us even had texting plans. Wait, is there some sort of sex aspect to this that I don't understand as a naive, married nerd? None of this makes any sense.

The cofounders spoke to the International Business Times UK, who reported that  "The app creators have noticed that college users, whom the app is aimed at, use the app to post news about celebrities visiting their campus and funny thoughts about things they see, public service announcements, and as a way to instantly discuss visiting speakers who come to give talks, in real-time while sitting in the auditorium watching the event."

Interesting. The sample image provided on the app's "purchase" page (it's free) gives the impression that they're marketing it as a place to safely test drive jokes before tweeting them.

There are, of course, some situations in which anonymity is preferred: reporting a crime, reporting a human resources violation of some sort, requesting help from a mental health hotline, issuing a warning about a business or dishonest or dangerous person, blowing a whistle, and the like. However, Yik Yak appears to be creating more public safety concerns than it could possibly resolve. 

I would very much now like to launch into a wistful and fist-shaking diatribe about how everyone is trying to invent the next Snapchat or WhatsApp and so people are just shoving out half-baked ideas into the marketplace and hoping Mark Zuckerberg has another spare $16 billion lying around and kids today and GRAAR GRAAARR BLARGH! I'll refrain.

It's clear from their reaction to all this trouble that the founders didn't mean to create a haven for degenerates, lunatics and bullies. I don't think they're a couple of lonely trolls who just wanted to create a home to call their own, I think they're just two guys who are pretty smart but suffer from a terminal case of tunnel vision. I hope that they're able to clean up this mess, but I just don't see how they possibly can. Even if kids are banned from using the app, there are plenty of adults out there who can think of lots of nefarious and ugly uses for an anonymous, public network. Back to the drawing board, fellas.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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