Anonymity is so hot right now. Not that it didn’t exist before, but there are now seemingly endless forums that offer the opportunity to speak in an uninhibited manner without any threat of personal identification. Anonymity allows us to speak more freely, perhaps. To say what we’ve been wanting to say without any consequence. To assign our names to something is to make us accountable for our actions, and where’s the fun in that?

Yik Yak is a great example of this phenomenon. In case you’re unfamiliar, Yik Yak is a free app in which users can write “Yaks,” brief statements of any kind, which are shared with users who fall within a ten mile radius. All users have the opportunity to contribute by composing or responding to posts, as well as by upvoting or downvoting posts. TIME aptly called it a “local, anonymous Twitter.”

Full disclosure: I’m not above Yik Yak; on the contrary, I read it a lot. Sometimes I even giggle despite myself at comments like this one: “When my friend asked me to stop acting like a flamingo I had to put my foot down.”  

But the app’s more sinister implications have convinced me that it does more harm than good.  
When I’ve complained to friends about some of the upsetting Yaks, mostly I’ve been told that I’m taking it too seriously. We have no proof these are even Bowdoin students, since there are other people within a 10-mile radius of the College, and we have no proof these people are serious—they might just be trying to get a rise out of us. 

My response is usually that it’s working. Whether or not these comments are written in earnest, whether or not it would be far more judicious of me to just delete the damn app, I still think it’s important to acknowledge that these messages contribute to the social climate of this campus.

Sure, it would be better to just ignore these hateful messages altogether. If you are one of these brave and impervious people, I salute you. But this task, of course, is easier said than done. What makes it even more difficult to dismiss these messages in the case of Yik Yak is that users know these comments are composed within relative proximity to them—close to home, if you will. 

The app can be extremely problematic with regard to body dissatisfaction. Along with some other employees at the Women’s Resource Center, I am involved in the creation of campaigns, programming and focus groups surrounding healthy body image at Bowdoin. We have discussed Yik Yak’s affect on body image and noted that, more often than not, the app contributes to general distress.  

One post I read recently was from a person asking how to tell his girlfriend that she needs to lose weight. Two responses were: “that’s why you dump them once they get fat,” and, maybe more troublingly, “the fact that you’re posting this to Yik Yak and arguing with anyone who tries to offer any insight proves you deserve a fat girlfriend.”

Another Yak read, “there should be a weight limit for leggings/yoga pants.” There were a slew of comments, including, “Fatties, put down the candy bar and eat a salad,” and, “Fat chicks shouldn’t wear yoga pants. It’s nasty. Not appealing. Go hit a gym.” Those are only a few examples.

Now, those aren’t the posts that get the most upvotes, nor are they free from contemptuous responses that call them out on their blatant cruelty. However, these sorts of posts do demonstrate that anonymous forums like Yik Yak ultimately facilitate bullying and hate speech. 

Just this March, American University administrators issued a public statement denouncing racist statements made by students on Yik Yak. In February, after a female user reported how she was encouraged to commit suicide by other anonymous users, a petition asking for the app to be shut down surfaced online, and was signed by more than 78,000 people.

My point is not to say that everyone at Bowdoin—or everyone who posts on Yik Yak—is malicious. It is to say, however, that these kinds of apps have the potential to be incredibly injurious, and we as Bowdoin students are implicated in this by virtue of reading and contributing to them. The concept of Yik Yak does offer some interesting opportunities by creating a space in which people can share opinions, humor and honest communications. However, I don’t think these benefits outweigh its costs.

If you don’t have Yik Yak, don’t bother. If you do, be aware of the messages you are receiving. Be aware of what you’re writing.

We are responsible for fostering a community in which students feel safe, and apps like this, while entertaining, don’t really help anyone. A generation of people who take responsibility for their actions would be better than a generation of people who lash out from behind the anonymous comfort of a screen.