Was I just bullied?: The dangers of anonymity on Yik Yak

Last week, Max Bruns wrote an editorial about Yik Yak, the social media app that lets people within a five-mile radius write posts anonymously. I had never heard of the app until the editorial ran, and I had no interest in downloading it or reading what people wrote – until last Friday.

Last Friday, Don’t Tell Anna (DTA), an improv group I’m a part of at Xavier, had its first show of the year. It was a good show, and I was proud to be a part of it. Afterwards, DTA was hanging out when someone pulled up Yik Yak and read the following post:
“The blonde girls in DTA suck”
Later, there was another post, presumably from a different person:
“I find improve very hard but I still don’t find the girls very funny.”
Obviously, Laura Birckhead and I, the blonde girls, were both hurt. The rest of DTA was also angry. Apparently, there were several others that said how much DTA as a whole “sucked” or wasn’t funny.

It was hurtful to hear these kinds of anonymous comments. What we do is very hard, and the posts obviously lack an understanding of improv, which is more than about being funny. It’s also about selflessly supporting your fellow performers, which sometimes means stepping back and letting others take the spotlight. A few of the posts were removed after so many people “downvoted” them and replied in defense of DTA, so it was nice to know that many still supported us.

It’s true that there are nights when I’m not funny, or where we have a rough show – believe me, I’ve heard the crickets. There will always be people who don’t think I’m funny, and that is perfectly okay with me. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

Quick note about the posts themselves: the first post could use punctuation. Also, I’ve been told I have light brown hair, while Laura is rocking the “ombre” look. To the second post, improv doesn’t have an “e” on the end. That’s a different word. It means to get better at something, like to “improve” one’s spelling.

That last comment is probably harsh, but at least I’m signing my name to it.
But the real issue here that bothers me more than the negative comments is the anonymity – the ability for people to hide behind a screen and be cruel without facing consequences.

I was honestly shocked to find that someone had said that about me on social media. Was I seriously just bullied as a senior in college? I didn’t realize that instead of college, I was actually attending a high school with a bully problem – you know, one of those expensive prep schools out of an ABC Family melodrama. I haven’t been bullied since middle school (well, at least to my knowledge) when I had braces, a nose I hadn’t yet grown into and frizzy hair parted directly down the middle.

meredith headshot
Meredith Francis is a senior Philosophy, Politics & the Public and English double major from Louisville, Ky.

I speak directly to the authors of those posts now. Would you have said that to my face? If you are going to belittle me, shouldn’t you have to say that directly to me or to the other two women in DTA? Because if you saw my reaction to reading that post, I’m not sure you would be so cruel so confidently.

Social media can be a great thing. It can connect people and be a platform to spread ideas and experiences. I downloaded Yik Yak to see what other kinds of things are on there. There are a few clever posts, but there are a lot of inappropriate, offensive and hateful things. I saw several posts with racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. These are ruining the app for others. I have already deleted the app because some of the comments are downright poisonous.

So please, be kind to others. If you’re going to be cruel, it is cowardly to hide behind the anonymity of your smartphone.

I think one user on Yik Yak summed up the situation perfectly when he or she said, “People are assholes on here.” We’re better than that.