The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may ban the use of a smartphone app believed by some to encourage hate speech, while others believe it reflects a freedom of speech among students.
The app, Yik Yak, allows its users to post anonymously to a message board that can then only be viewed by people in a particular geographic location. The app, which has been described as “a local, anonymous Twitter or a local virtual bulletin board” by Yik Yak’s co-founder Tyler Droll, is very popular across college campuses.
However, some of the anonymous posts have been anything but kind. The app was considered controversial after a bomb threat was made on the campus through the app.
In addition, during the “Black Lives Matter” protests which took place on the UNC Chapel Hill campus last fall, one person posted “I really hate blacks, I’m going home where there aren’t any,” while another wrote “”the way blacks are acting right now kind of justify slavery.”
“People have been saying some very racist, very hurtful things,” said Ashley Winkfield, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who has kept a running tab of “yaks” that she finds troubling. “These are people we are going to class with, people who we see every day, and they might have some type of ill will toward us,” she said.
In an effort to deter this behavior, the app allows users to up- or down-vote a comment, but sometimes these comments can also be popular, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown for Reason.com.
UNC Chapel Hill officials are currently looking into the issue and deciding how best to deal with Yik Yak.
“We want Carolina to be a place where people feel comfortable talking about race and other issues, and we are working hard to create opportunities for them to do that in a constructive and respectful way,” said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp in a statement.
Other colleges across the country, including Utica College in New York and Norwich University in Vermont, have already banned the app from use on their campuses by blocking it from the school’s wireless networks.
Some schools do not feel the same way. Clemson University considered banning the app before deciding against it. Duke University and North Carolina State University have no plans to ban the app, which they believe is protected by freedom of expression.
The banning of the app by college campuses is a symbolic move in the end, as students are still able to access Yik Yak through the data on their phones.
Meanwhile, the app was the recipient of the Fastest Rising Startup award at the 8th annual TechCrunch Crunchies this year. The event awards those companies and individuals who have made the most impact on the industry in the last year. Previous winners include Snapchat and Upworthy.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be recognized as one of the most successful apps in the startup space this year,” said Tyler Droll, cofounder and CEO. “When we first launched the app, we set out to create a more engaging social platform that was built on local communities and interactions. Today, the app has spread throughout the country and continues to expand globally as more users embrace the value of local, open communication.”