Whether or not Kenyon students needed a new platform to express themselves, they have one. A new(ish) social media platform has returned to campus: Yik Yak.
On the app, anonymous users post “yaks,” which are short text messages that are viewable to users located within a 5-mile radius. Users express their enjoyment of a yak with upvotes and downvotes, which, when summed, indicate the popularity of the yak. Yaks in Gambier tend to be either jokes or complaints, varying in importance from serious critiques of Kenyon’s COVID-19 policies to gripes about Peirce options.
Yik Yak first arrived at Kenyon in 2014 when the app was originally launched. Students had a mixed response. Its continuous use testified to its popularity, but multiple students penned opinion pieces in the Collegian arguing that its presence was a negative influence, pointing to instances of “mindless student-to-student brutality” and offensive content that emerged in the anonymous, unmoderated environment. Similar problems plagued the app wherever it operated and ultimately led to its demise in 2017.
Under new ownership, Yik Yak relaunched in August 2021 with enhanced moderation capabilities — just in time for Kenyon students to move onto campus. Students flooded onto the platform to float their ideas and get a sense of the campus’s collective subconscious.
“I think the reason I like Yik Yak and the reason it’s popular is the same,” shared Sarah Tomasi ’23, who uses the platform. “You’re sending out your little jokes into the void. It doesn’t matter if it gets upvotes or not because no one’s going to know it’s you.”
Jokes based on shared Kenyon experiences proliferate on the platform, riffing on institutional knowledge or the developments of the day. “Deleting Moodle because I need a break from social media,” one user posted. “UPDATE: no gathering of more than 10 bees allowed on Peirce lawn,” shared another. Neither evacuation of Chalmers Library in the past week went without comment on the app. Many posts, it should be said, are not fit for publication.
Erin Gallagher ’25 hasn’t known a Kenyon without Yik Yak and agrees that the anonymity enhances the jokes on the platform. “You don’t have to be insecure about whether it works,” she said. “But I can see how the anonymity could lead to problems.”
And lead to problems it does. The enhanced moderation measures accompanying Yik Yak’s relaunch allow users to downvote offensive comments so that they will be removed, but it doesn’t stop them from being posted. Additionally, comments that are factually incorrect but inoffensive are free to circulate. James Hurley ’23 admits that he shared a rumor about the reason behind Chilitos’s closure that he later found to be untrue, then regretted spreading it.
Repetitive content, particularly complaints, tend to snowball on the platform. “Complaining back and forth about problems everyone knows about isn’t necessarily productive, said Tomasi. “But you can make your little joke about it.” Gallagher agreed that users can quickly exhaust hot topics. “There were a lot of jokes about COVID,” she said. “And sometimes it’s funny, but then also there’s an overload of jokes about the same thing. And because it’s COVID, it’s not something you want to hear about all the time.”
Nevertheless, Tomasi thinks the app is overall a positive presence for campus. “It feels unifying when there’s a sentiment that hundreds of people agree with. It feels almost like a little game,” she said. This unity is especially present when a user chooses to pivot the conversation from cathartic complaints to communal support. The top yak on Sept. 14, for example: “Listen underclassmen: Kenyon WAS fun before COVID. There were weird parties and live shows and it was easy to make friends with strangers. It’s just hard to b[e] in the middle of OH during a pandemic,” one user wrote. Over 140 students agreed.