Yik Yak Is Back, For Better and Mostly Worse

The anonymous messaging app announced its return Monday, but its former users have mixed reactions

A screenshot of the controversial messaging app Yik Yak
Yik Yak

After a four-year break, the controversial app known as Yik Yak is back and available for download in the App Store. Yesterday the official Twitter account for the app announced its return, noting the app is only available on U.S. iPhones, though more countries and devices will be added soon.

If you have no idea what Yik Yak is or need a refresher on the once-popular smartphone application, here’s what you need to know:

Yik Yak can best be described as an anonymous, location-based forum or message board (think Twitter, but localized and incognito). Because the app utilizes users’ locations, Yik Yak became immensely popular in high schools and on college campuses for the few years it was around. Users could connect with people within a five-mile radius of their location to chat, ask questions, gossip and share party locations. Similar to Reddit, other users would be able to comment, upvote or downvote messages posted on the board.

The app was founded in 2013 by two college students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, but really exploded in popularity in 2014; at one point, it was valued around $400 million. The app, however, faded into obscurity in 2016, and finally ceased operations in 2017 following a steep decline in engagement from users.

We know what you’re thinking: a social media app that prides itself on anonymity sounds like a wholesome, pleasant environment where well-meaning users can connect and have a laugh! Well, I regret to inform you that was not the case.

Unfortunately, the app’s fun gossipy parts were greatly overshadowed by harassment, bullying and incitement of violence parts. There have been multiple incidents of Yik Yak-based bomb and shooting threats, where schools across the country have had to evacuate their students. Racist, sexist, fatphobic and generally aggressive and hateful language plagued the app due to the anonymity and severe lack of moderation, which is why Yik Yak’s unexpected return has been met with mixed reactions.

According to the new app’s Community Guardrails, Yik Yak seems to be addressing these harassment concerns and will be implementing a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and threats.

“On the new Yik Yak, it’s against the Community Guardrails to post bullying messages or use hate speech, make threats, or share anyone’s private information,” the app’s relaunched website reads. “If someone bullies another person, uses hate speech, makes a threat, or in any way seriously violates the Community Guardrails or Terms of Service, they can be immediately banned from Yik Yak. One strike and you’re out.”

Of course, moderating any social media app, particularly an anonymous-based one, is easier said than done, and we’ll likely just have to wait and see how Yik Yak handles the present-day internet, which we know has only become more unhinged since 2014. It’s also still unknown who is even behind the app’s relaunch. Perhaps the new owners are just playing to the app’s anonymity, or maybe they’re waiting to see how bad the backlash is over this announcement.

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