Online anonymity comes with a price

I think it’s safe to say my generation has become well versed in the use of social media. Some of us may be more active on it than others, but on the whole we all have at least one online medium that is used to communicate with our peers. This makes sense, since we’ve grown up side-by-side with these networks. Take Facebook for instance. I’d say it’s past its infancy stage of purely keeping in touch with friends and is in the midst of the obnoxious pubescent  portion of its life; it changes looks almost weekly and can’t really decide what it wants to be for everyone.

Through all this growth, we’ve developed a sense of comfort. Facebook and Twitter are common and used daily, and some of us “blog” in tumblr, while others enjoy pinning things on Pinterest. None of these interfaces are particularly intimidating, and they all intend on showcasing our lives to the public. The networks are there to put names and faces out in the open. For the longest time, identity has dominated our online social scene, but now there’s a cheeky little app that’s stirring the pot: Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is a Twitter-esque app that allows users to post short messages to a timeline where other users can choose to up- or down-vote them and even reply. One of the standout features of Yik Yak is the location showcasing. The whole point is that messages are only shown to people within your immediate vicinity, to create a local dialogue. There’s a kicker though. Everything is completely anonymous.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but being in while studying Strategy and Arms Control (INTA 4016), I’ve learned what kind of power anonymity can give. We’ve spent so much time molding an identity for people to see us as we want them to. Now, people can say anything they want without consequence. In theory, I really like this idea. In practice though, I’m not sure it’s been successful.

This whole concept of keeping everything anonymous means people will say things without fear. What’s to stop somebody from vicious cyberbullying? What’s to keep people from being blatantly and painfully racist or sexist? There is little moderation, and a great deal of this tasks rests on the shoulders of normal users. This lack of identity, visual consequence and moderation leaves people with a numb sense of reality.

Anonymity means rumors can be spread quickly and easily, identities can be assumed and damage can be caused without anyone knowing. Yik Yak does have an honor code, but I’ve no idea how well it is kept up. This isn’t to say Tech has been bad as of yet. At least at Tech, Yik-Yak has really only taught me that everyone hates TKE, DTD, KA, ADPis and GDI’s/”geeds.” There’s just a lot of potential for damage to be caused and the forum to be abused. Though, who knows? Maybe given some time it’ll be in the same ranks as Facebook and Twitter.