Yik Yak: The Anonymous ‘Shaming’ App That Recalls Unpleasant Bullying Memories Of JuicyCampus.Com

By   |  March 15, 2014

Quick! What do Facebook, JuicyCampus, and Yik Yak all have in common?

They were all started by college frat boys intent on shaming other students.

They say that history repeats itself – and nowhere does this appear more true than in the saturated, copycat world of over-hyped mobile apps and websites.

Yik Yak: Yet Another Cyber-Bullying App

In early 2014, an anonymous bulletin-board styled app called Yik Yak starting gaining rapid traction among college and high school students across America. But almost immediately, it was clear that any widespread growth achieved by the small company would not be without a great deal of controversy.

Yik Yak, started by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, aimed to connect users through anonymous, public, location-based posts. The young men, now graduated, were both members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, one of many striking similarities with the now-defunct JuicyCampus.com website that exploded in popularity before its sudden demise in 2009 in the face of legal threats and lack of advertisers.

In the past few weeks, media coverage of Yik Yak has skyrocketed – but in a majority of cases, the stories reported are outrageous. Here are some recent headlines:

In response to the Mobile-area terrorist threats involving minors, Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich called “bullshit” on the Yik Yak creators, despite their app’s homepage ‘imploring’ users not to use Yik Yak for cyber-bullying. “They absolutely know it’s being used that way if they are telling people not to use it that way,” she said, according to a recent article appearing on Philly.com, a web portal run by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That same article on Philly.com reports that Droll and Buffington have been capitalizing on their fraternity connection to generate more attention for Yik Yak, by emailing frat bothers across the country to “spread the word” about the gossip app.

JuicyCampus, born before the mobile app craze, was launched by Matt Ivester, a highly-profiled member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity during his time at Duke University. Ivester, who aggressively defended the website for months in the name of “free speech” despite dozens of schools criticizing or even banning the project, has spent the last 5 years desperately trying to re-create himself. In 2011, while enrolled at Stanford University Business School, Ivestor released a book called lol…OMG! which chronicled the perils of cyber-bullying and digital citizenship. Currently, he is the CEO of app startup company Kindr, based in Palo Alto, which aims to spread “kindness” and “make friends smile” – which has turned out to be a flop. (Note: Ivester also launched his own Facebook fan page, which has garnered a total of 16 fans since being published in 2011.)

Update 3/16/2014: In response to our article, Matt Ivester appears to have quietly deleted his public Facebook page.

While it took JuicyCampus almost two years to generate significant controversy, smartphone-era Yik Yak has managed to do so in just a few short months.

As of yesterday, TechCrunch reports that Yik Yak has followed through on an earlier promise to ‘geo-ban’ high schools and middle schools using detailed GPS data. Using coordinates provided by data provider Maponics, Yik Yak hopes to prove their dedication to fighting cyber-bullying among young American students by blocking use of the app at any school in America that hosts students under 17 years of age. However, such a ‘ban’ does nothing to stop students from using the app immediately after leaving campus, or by leveraging multiple work-arounds such as WiFi, VPNs, proxies, etc. Strangely, the app’s creators don’t seem to have any problem with continued cyber-bullying among college students – still the primary target of Yik Yak – despite their efforts to compare the technology to messaging startups Secret and Whisper.

At the height of the JuicyCampus controversy, The Chronicle published an article decrying all the media attention the gossip-whoring website was getting, arguing that the best defense for cyber-bullying was to simply ‘ignore’ the project, noting that Google pulled its ad network from JuicyCampus completely on their own accord. But in an age where most teenagers now have direct access to smartphones, such an approach would perhaps only embolden apps like Yik Yak to continue development sans criticism.

So far, Yik Yak has only seen investment from Atlanta Capital in the form of a $20,000 convertible note. But only time will tell if the company’s goal of localized ad monetization will be compromised by their current notoriety for cyber-bullying.

Then again, it sure seemed to work out for Mark Zuckerberg.

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5 Comments on “Yik Yak: The Anonymous ‘Shaming’ App That Recalls Unpleasant Bullying Memories Of JuicyCampus.Com”  (RSS)

  1. And Now they killed Anonymity.
    My college now uses getfluttr.com as replacement.

  2. I really sympathise with kids who are bullied, and I certainly don’t want anyone killing themselves, but people have to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether or not the app Yik Yak was intended to allow students to shame one another, kids are going to use it for that. We are all subject to social pressures, and standing against them is what is going to change anything. If a kid is being bullied on Yik Yak, why don’t they delete it themselves? Why do they have to rely on other people to do the work for them? We can’t ban everything we don’t like. We have to accept there are always going to be things we don’t like, and take our own actions to protect our own selves. I am only responsible for my own actions, and you are only responsible for yours. That idea is what we need more of in this world.

  3. Just saw a community app called Spiral on TechCrunch. Looks awesome! The link is sprlr.com

  4. These two guys are really the cyber bulkies. They created something that they knew would allow a format for teens to break the law and they hide and do nothing after the continual havoc this app has cause in high schools across the country. Behind the veil of anonymity, teens have spread lies, perpetuated sexual harrassment, and slung racial slurs agains their their peers. Kids are missing school because they becime depressed from defending themselves constantly from the lies posted about them. Reputations are tarnished and many the heinous posts aren’t deleted even when reported to Yik Yak. When are they going to man up and take responsible for the social harm they have caused–when someone commits suicide. They are monsters creating the monster because they won’t fix the problem.

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