By Adam Harring
INDIANA — Yik Yak, a Twitter-like app that allows users to post messages anonymously, found a new purpose last weekend as Indiana University of Pennsylvania students took to the social medium to warn others of police movements and party busts.
The app, which displays users’ posts based on location, is often a source of reproachable postings and vile language—due in part to the anonymity. However, during the IUPatty’s weekend, it served as an early-warning system to students participating in the festivities.
Some students tuned in to the police scanner and then took to Yik Yak to post warnings to their peers both on and off the IUP campus.
One such message was posted just before 8:45 p.m. on Saturday. It alerted residents of Northern Suites: “251 Northern, police are coming for you.”
Two other posts around the same time read: “Northern 251, get your s— together,” and, “Northern 251, hide yo s—.”
This show of altruism wasn’t isolated. The anonymous warning system continued to protect and serve students throughout the day. One party on Grandview Avenue prompted an exceptional volume of Yik Yak chatter.
At around 5:30 p.m., a flood of posts warned students on Grandview of incoming police: “Grandview is f—ed; the paddy wagon is on the way”; “Paddy wagon is going to Grandview to get filled,” and, “They’re sending a K-9 unit to Grandview.”
Despite the seemingly harmless use over the weekend, the app has come under scrutiny as its anonymity has created a platform for profanity, hate speech and defamation.
For these reasons the app’s use on college campuses has become a hot-button issue. Proponents of free speech say the app and its users should be entitled to post whatever they want and that any enforcement of restrictions of its use on college campuses would be a violation of free speech.
But individuals at whom the offensive content is directed say they feel threatened and hurt.
Yik Yak on college campuses was the subject of a March 8 New York Times article. It reported on Margaret Crouch, a professor of philosophy at Eastern Michigan University, a target of abusive posts. Crouch said she was considering legal action.
“I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched,” Crouch told The Times. “I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused. I am ready to hire a lawyer.”
Since the app’s creation about a year ago, students have used it to make violent threats and post racist, homophobic and misogynistic remarks, the story reported. It cited a Yik Yak post at Kenyon University that proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.
At IUP, local news media reported on social media and its role in IUPatty’s partying. Yik Yak, however, was not mentioned.
Adam Harring is a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
This story aired March 22 on the WIUP-FM local news program The Hawk Report.