Last week, students at Colgate University protested their college's treatment of minorities. The demonstrations were at least partially inspired by racist posts on Yik Yak, a social media app where people post anonymous messages to other users in their area.
More recently, someone on Kenyon College's campus took to Yik Yak to issue some disturbing threats. According to The Thrill, Kenyon's student-run blog, several posts were made threatening violence and even sexual assault against the women who lived and worked at Crozier House, the campus center for women.
Note: The following tweets contain offensive language that may be upsetting to some readers.
And shocking as these incidents are, our reaction to them has become sort of procedural. First, we express disgust and indignation; then we turn to social media to make it known that we care for each other's safety; then the administration pays some lip service to how much they disapprove of racism and misogyny. Then we declare that a "dialogue" has been established or a "conversation" has started and feel that we've done some genuine good.
Then it happens again.
That isn't to say that dialogues and conversations haven't been helpful or successful. I firmly believe that there is more awareness of and more sensitivity to matters of difference in gender, sexuality and race today than there has been for decades.
What I am saying is that there's valuable discussion and there's harmful discussion, and that no amount of one kind can ever really eradicate the other. That's why I think that college administrations should permanently ban Yik Yak and any other forum that allows people to post comments anonymously.
This proposal might make plenty of people feel squeamish, and rightly so. Given how much faith we put into the power of conversation, it feels wrong to silence any form of expression, even when those expressions are often harmful. It sounds a lot like censorship, which is quite the dirty word these days. But make no mistake - censorship is exactly what I'm advocating.
Censorship is a blunt instrument, to be sure, and it's often not the correct one for the job. We'd all like to use public bathroom stalls, for instance, without having to read whatever insightful new epithets local morons are scribbling onto them, but simply removing those stalls isn't an option. When it comes to using the restroom, anonymity is a basic human right, so we're forced to accept the undereducated invective that comes with it.
But Yik Yak isn't like using the restroom. In fact, yakking is about ten times less useful than taking a dump because there isn't a conceivable situation in which one would ever really need to do it. Yakking gives you the ability to say whatever you want to everyone within earshot without ever revealing who you are, and anyone who has attended a high school assembly can tell you how helpful that input usually is. When it comes to public speaking, anonymity is not a basic human right because addressing the public entails confrontation. It's an act of bravery because it involves taking responsibility for your ideas.
And yet, there are communities of people who feel that anonymity is very brave. 4Chan communities, who were most recently in the news for their role in the hacking of celebrities' private photos, tend to puff themselves up with libertarian nonsense about the virtue of anonymity. One of these communities' pet causes is the Emma Sulkowicz case at Columbia University, the woman who plans to carry her mattress everywhere she goes until her rapist is expelled from the campus. I invite you to take a look at the comments section of the open letter Emma's parents wrote to Columbia, which has been flooded with trash like this:
I'm sorry my opinions exist on this campus. Just take solace in knowing I'm not the only one. Majority of the student body sees this lying (expletive) for the piece of spoiled attention grabbing (expletive) that she is.
My name is Legion.
For we are many.
These are the people that anonymous forums are protecting, people whining that they're being bullied by big government into caring about whether women live or die. Unless you're interested in hearing someone who just saw V for Vendetta for the first time talk about misogyny, there's almost no reason to pay attention to these "conversations." So if you're running a liberal arts school with its own Wi-Fi network, why not ban these forums outright?
In small communities like the student bodies at Colgate, Kenyon, and Columbia, people should be forced to take responsibility for their actions. If you think really, really hard, can anyone come up with a single conceivable way in which Yik Yak might do something so good that it outweighs the fear it's putting in members of these communities?
As Kenyon student Kate Lindsay argues, "When you turn to a platform like Yik Yak, I don't think you actually care about change. You care about making your victims feel as small and as unsafe as possible." If that's the case, and I think it is, how can we justify its continued existence? Yik Yak and other local sources of anonymous content are like bathroom stalls without toilets. They're useless, they're sources of unhelpful or harmful conversations, and they're a complete eyesore.
So get rid of them.