Over the past few years, anonymous websites such as campus-crush Facebook accounts and Yik Yak have become a predominant presence on college campuses. Many students may find expressing their opinions through these anonymous sites easier than through identified accounts, but at times, the anonymity of these sites can be taken advantage of in order to hurt a specific person or group.
A Huffington Post article reported that in September 2014, more than 300 Colgate University students had a sit-in at the university’s admissions building to protest the treatment of minority students on campus, along with the university’s lack of diversity. The sit-in was ignited by bigoted messages on Yik Yak, including “White people won life, Africa lost, sorry we were so much better than you that we were literally able to enslave you at your will.” The university did not react to the students’ protest.
Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app used by many students at Ithaca College. The app allows people to anonymously create and view posts within a 1.5 mile radius from their device. The distance is helpful for college campuses because the anonymous message can be viewed by anyone on campus, Cam Mullen, lead community developer for Yik Yak, said.
“Everyone has the same influence,” Mullen said. “People are judged on content alone, not on who they are. You can be an incoming freshman or an outgoing senior. It’s not going to matter. The message is going to reach people on campus really quickly.”
Yik Yak is sometimes used as a way of entertainment, but has the potential to be a cyberbullying tool. In an attempt to combat this, Yik Yak has a filtering system that can control the statuses. In its submission system, it has flagged words so that if a status submitted has a trigger word, or a word of negative or violent connotation and high controversy in it, such as a racial slurs or those related to bullying, the status will be posted and sent to Yik Yak’s moderator team simultaneously. Site users can also downvote statuses they find inappropriate, and when a status has been downvoted five times, it is taken off of the site. People can also flag statuses. If two or more people flag a status, the status will be looked at by the moderator team, and the user may be restricted from posting for an amount of time or entirely suspended.
IC Crushes is an anonymous account specifically for the students of Ithaca College. As of Oct. 19, IC Crushes has 1,365 likes on Facebook and 2,798 followers on Twitter. IC Crushes allows students to send in secret crushes through a Google submissions application. The leader of IC Crushes, who wished to remain anonymous, said he makes a point to go through every submission he receives in order to filter out the negativity. The page gets about 50 messages a day, and about five to 10 of them will not get posted, usually because they are written with the intent to hurt someone else, he said. The messages that are posted generally describe someone the submitter saw that day, what they were wearing, the time of day it was and where they were, or the posts have the name of someone with what someone thinks about them. “Hot pink spandex in terraces dining hall around 6 (10/20). Damn that ass had me mesmerized,” is one example of the submissions IC Crushes usually publishes.
“I think that [anonymous postings] can be either good or bad,” the leader of IC Crushes said in an online interview. “IC Crushes is designed to make people feel good about themselves because another student noticed them … Do not submit anything hurtful or negative because you’re just wasting your time as well as mine.”
He said the site is run with the goal to connect students on campus and make them feel good about themselves or that will be funny to the reader.
“I feel like the account can bring the campus together if I tweet something of relevance that isn’t directed at a specific person,” he said. “This summer, I did a posting frenzy called, ‘Get Hype For Ithaca,’ where I had people submit funny stories and photos from previous Ithaca semesters. I felt like it brought the campus together and had a great outcome.”
Sophomore Micaela Tobio has had multiple IC Crushes written about her and said that without the anonymity, the crush wouldn’t be a surprise. The excitement comes from guessing who could have sent the crush in, she said. However, Tobio said she understands how the anonymity of the site and the site itself can cause negative assumptions with highly sexually based statuses, including specific sexual activities someone would like to do to the dedicated crush.
“Some of the crushes and the way they are written can cause viewers to think negatively of a person, especially if their name is used multiple times in a demeaning and sexual manner, causing people to think of them as easy or slutty, even if that is not the case at all,” Tobio said.
Because of the posts’ anonymous nature, users do escape a certain level of judgement — whether the poster is a freshman or a senior, for instance, will remain unknown. People can judge the status, but not the person who posted it. Although this may seem like a positive and uplifting idea, some people may take it for granted, Emily Eckland, director of digital strategy and awareness campaigns of the National Cyber Security Alliance, said.
“Often times, people will take it as an opportunity to hide behind the anonymity and post things they would never say to someone’s face,” she said. “The Internet is a great tool and allows for people to create their own unique identities, but once you post something online, you can’t take it back. It’s there forever.”
IC Secrets, an anonymous Ithaca College campus-based account, was shut down by college administration last year because of hurtful messages posted on the site, including demeaning descriptions of a specific person’s physical appearance. Although cyberbullying can be an issue with anonymous sites, with the proper amount of filtering and control of the accounts from a leader or organization, there are positive ways these sites can be used, Eckland said.
“These anonymous websites can also be lifelines for people who may not feel comfortable talking in person about something that’s bothering them or need to reach out and ask for help,” she said. “It just depends on how people use them.”