Hiding behind the curtain of anonymity

Ryan Scott, Sports Editor

It’s no secret that the rise of the internet in the last 20 years has had one of the biggest impacts on humankind in all of recorded history. With what seems like an endless amount of possibilities, the internet can seem like a magical place where anything can happen if you have enough time on your hands.

Whether or not the impact the internet has had on humans is a positive one or not is still up for debate. On the one hand, internet access gives an individual unparalleled amounts of knowledge and information at the tips of their fingers. But the internet’s more checkered side (which seems to be the most publicized side), is a place where the internet is used of some of the most malicious purposes imaginable.

This side of the internet brings me to my main talking point. With the internet’s capabilities, it was inevitable that the social networks we are so accustomed to today would show up sooner or later. With each serving many purposes, such as Instagram for the sharing of images and videos, and Twitter for providing real time updates from anything to world news to as far off as what your cowarkers are craving for lunch, social networks are trying harder than ever to find ways to be original.

That’s where the app known simply as YikYak comes in. the app, which isn’t technically new, (it was first launched in November 2013), is a social media tool which lets users post content completely anonymously to others around them. The app uses location tools on the user’s device to determine the user’s location, and the user can only post/see posts from others in a 1.5-mile radius. The app is mostly centered in college areas and can be used to relay news about events or happenings in an immediate area.

The app has seen a burst of popularity recently, and it is estimated that it is being used in over 1,000 colleges and universities all across America. Probably the most appealing draw is the absolute anonymity the app provides, as it requires no sign in at all, allowing people to download the app and instantly start posting and reading posts. There is even a feature that allows users to see what is being posted at other colleges, but users cannot respond or provide feedback with these unless they are inside the 1.5 mile radius.

Much of the content I have seen posted to Texas A&M University – Commerce’s own feed are things you may hear passerby’s say around campus. Things like “X professor is totally boring”, or “I really hope the caf food is good today”. However, this is also a much less light hearted side to the chatter.

There is a sizable amount of, shall we say, unsavory topics that are discussed. Things like solicitations for drugs, alcohol, and sexual favors are also rampant, and with the anonymity of the app, these people can skate by undetected. But the biggest problem by far, is bullying.

YikYak is by far not the first internet phenomenon to allow users to post anonymous hate to others, with the site 4chan taking that title many years ago, but its ability for people who may live in the same dorm, take the same classes, or pass by each other daily post anonymous hate messages is quite alarming. Many a harsh word has been broadcast to user’s general area on YikYak, and the frequency is rising steadily.

It’s apparent that apps like this may be addicting and humorous at times, it’s also important to remember that one should at least show human decency at least once in a while. Cyberbullying is far from going away, and apps like these help perpetuate it.

It can be said that anonymity changes people. It makes people 3 inches taller and their muscles bigger. It makes people say things that many would never be caught dead saying in public. It’s important to realize that one day, all anonymity may be gone, and how will those “internet tough guy” stereotypes cope then? One thing’s for sure, as comforting as anonymity is, we may all be better people without it.