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Wednesday, July 15, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU Greek leaders call on students to ditch Yik Yak app

Jacob Rummel and Andrew Braddock Murrow News Service

Student leaders at Washington State University are trying to dissuade use of a popular but controversial mobile phone app that allows people to post anonymously.

After a series of malicious posts targeted students at WSU, leaders of the fraternity and sorority system urged others to stop using Yik Yak, the newest hot social media tool.

“I think the negatives that are portrayed on the site or on the app completely outweigh anything remotely positive,” said Adam Crouch, president of the Interfraternity Council at the university.

Yik Yak is a social media app that shows posts from people within a 1.5-mile radius. But it does not show the name of the person who posted the message, which critics said can lead to anonymous cyberbullying. The company did not respond to an interview request.

More than one-third of the WSU student body is using the app, a Yik Yak representative told the campus newspaper, the Daily Evergreen. The company said the campus users are generating about one post per minute.

Because Yik Yak has gained a substantial following, many users argue the merits of the app. Some use it for advice and posting positive or humorous messages.

With campus-centered content including personal attacks, Yik Yak gained the attention of Greek community leaders. WSU Panhellenic Council President Madi Phillips said that because people can post opinions anonymously, there is no accountability for those using words that are negative or false.

“We didn’t want to participate anymore and hurt the (sorority members) in our community,” Phillips said.

The students launched a campaign – #releasetheyak – that includes screenshots of students deleting the app from their phones.

 Melynda Huskey, WSU’s dean of students, applauded the action taken by the Panhellenic Council, but she said the WSU administration has no plans to limit the application’s use.

“Students have the freedom to choose how they engage,” Huskey said. “It’s a free speech issue.”

Yik Yak has caused controversy nationwide. One private university banned students from accessing the app on university servers after concerns emerged of anonymous online bullying.

“We blocked the app from being accessed from our university server – that does not prohibit people from accessing it through the phone data network,” said Daphne Larkin, a communication specialist for Norwich University in Vermont. “You can’t put your foot down on top of it and make it go away.”

University administrators are not the only ones who have grappled with how to regulate the open forum. Some Yik Yak users have accused Pullman police of monitoring content.

Cmdr. Chris Tennant said he does not have any knowledge of officers who use the app. He added that if he saw posts admitting to criminal activity, there would not be much for police to do.

“The only channel we would have is to get a search warrant for the company,” Tennant said, “but I don’t know if it would be worth it.”

Elizabeth Blanks Hindman, an associate professor of media law at WSU, said a public university might have a harder time taking action than a private institution.

“If they’re private, they can do what they want,” Hindman said. 

Andrea Aguilar and Renee McCann contributed to this story. The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.
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