Anonymous social media platforms on campus impact student body


Nathanael Bryant

Screenshots from Yik Yak posts.

Nathanael Bryant, [email protected], Contributor

UNC Asheville community members voice concern over the use of anonymous social media platforms such as Yik Yak, along with their effects on campus. 

“There is a deep sense of isolation from actual connection to another person,” said Dean of Students Megan Pugh. “How folks can be treated on these apps, especially anonymously, really can dig into someone’s mental health.”

Yik Yak, a localized and anonymous social media platform, allows users within a 5-mile radius to upload thoughts and opinions. For many college students the attractiveness and the issues of this platform comes from its anonymity. 

“I feel like we need to stray away from just being like, ‘Oh, I could say whatever I want.’ There are consequences,” 19-year-old sophmore Caroline Scholer said. 

Scholer said Yik Yak can create a hive mentality for college students, influencing people’s thoughts without putting faces to the original posts. 

“Somebody does something wrong on campus and you see other people bashing them and hating on them and you’re like, ‘Oh, I should feel the same way,’” she said.

Pugh and Heather Lindkvist, the Title IX and Clery Act coordinator, addressed Yik Yak’s issues in an email to the UNCA student body on Feb. 15.

Pugh said no one specific incident sparked the decision to reach out to the student body.

“It was more of a slow burn,” she said. “But I think things have gotten incredibly specific.”

According to Pugh, users are now using these platforms to be intentionally brutal towards others. She said this can leave people wondering what is really going on, or even if they are safe on campus.

“I think right now there’s a state of hyper anxiety,” Pugh said. “A large part of the impact has been creating and abiding a sense of anxiety and panic.”

According to Pugh, on top of this sense of anxiousness, students who aren’t directly involved in being outed on Yik Yak are still impacted by the circulated information.

“When we don’t have all the pieces of information, we just fill in the scene. And so we create narratives for ourselves, and a lot of times those things aren’t helpful to us,” Pugh said. 

Pugh said Yik Yak still has potential, like using it to build a stronger sense of local community. She said another benefit is the private direct messaging Yik Yak offers, and talking to someone anonymously about sensitive issues. 

“I do think it’s a lot easier to share with someone who is, you know, assumed to be objectively uninvolved in whatever you’re going through,” Pugh said.

Scholer said there is a valuable community aspect to Yik Yak. Caitlin Brez, professor of psychology at UNCA, brought up the importance this anonymity can have as well.

“I think there are some benefits of being able to communicate or share information when your identity is not needed to be a part of it,” Brez said.

Brez said a similar choice to remain anonymous impacted students in virtual classes during COVID. However, she said this anonymity could be seen as more harmful to students than helpful.

“Sometimes there are learning objectives that come from being part of a learning community and building those social connections,” Brez said. “So if you don’t partake in those and you keep yourself anonymous in the classroom, you’re not giving yourself opportunities to learn those skills.”

According to Brez, it’s developmentally important for people to attach their identity to their views even when it may not be comfortable. 

“There are ways that being anonymous and being able to share your experience and processes can be really helpful,” Brez said. “If that then becomes a shield to real conversations or addressing conflict in a way that is healthy, perhaps it can become a negative.”

Brez said humans are social creatures who thrive on in-person connections with one another.

“We’re naturally predisposed to form those connections and to form relations with other people, and not having those opportunities works against cohesion,” Brez said.

Tik Tok, another social media platform, allows users to share video content around the world. While the point of Tik Tok isn’t anonymity, users can still choose to not share personal information with others. 

Scholer said she had recently uploaded a Tik Tok that started gaining popularity, reaching over 70,000 people in four hours. 

“There was a baby who was in a restaurant with his mom and he was kissing his mom on the lips,” she said. “He kissed her again on the lips, and I stitched it and was like Sigmund Freud would have gotten a kick out of this.”

Stitching is a form of reaction content on Tik Tok where a user can add their own video onto the end of another.

According to Scholer, people immediately began arguing in the comments. Some appeared to have found the joke funny, while others seemed to be morally offended. 

“In my head it was obviously a joke, and some comments were like, ‘I totally agree, this is hilarious,’” she said. “But then somebody commented, ‘chapstick,’ and I deleted it because I got self-conscious. My lips were very chapped in the video.”

Scholer said lack of identity gave the user who commented “chapstick” power over the situation. According to Scholer, this power of anonymity can be even more dangerous for a college community, where there is a smaller group of people and potentially more at stake. 

“People can use these anonymous platforms to justify any thoughts or feelings they have about campus that could be really harmful or disrespectful to people,” she said. “I think that does not have a place on a college campus.”

Both the dean and Scholer said Yik Yak has potential to be a positive force on campus, but said people need to remember their posts hold power. 

“There is an impact,” Pugh said. “I do hope that this is a reflective opportunity for our campus to think about, ‘Is this the type of campus we want to be?’”