Social media has long lent itself to antisemitism. As antisemitism shape-shifts to suit the relevant needs and climate of society, it only makes sense that social media falls victim to this in the digital age. Of the antisemitic incidents reported to Jewish on Campus in 2021, one in eight occurred on social media. Antisemitism on social media is an ever-present problem, but the resurgence of Yik Yak has created a whole new side to the problem.
On most social platforms, people’s actions are tied to their name, their face, or at least strung together on one profile where their posts can be found even when they’re no longer present on people’s feeds. This makes people think twice before they post and offers some amount of accountability with the ability to block and report those spreading hateful messages. But Yik Yak is different. It is entirely anonymous, with no accounts or profiles, so one can send their message out into the ether and no one will even know it was them. The app is similar to Twitter in that it is a public message board feed, but it is based on geographic location. There is no blocking, no reporting, and no proper system to monitor bigotry or raise concerns about foul play.
The structure of Yik Yak lends itself to a tremendous amount of bigotry, with antisemitism being no exception. Yik Yak is accessible to anyone with a smartphone; regular unassuming people can access the most dangerous antisemitic rhetoric. Online antisemitism no longer has to be intentionally sought out in deep corners of the web on sites like 4chan. Yik Yak is popular among regular college students, many of whom download the app to scroll through funny comments or innocuous messages about their school. Apps like this — where average students can access vile rhetoric — act as a gateway to more serious conspiracies and spaces where antisemitism is bred. People can become swept up in the environment of such deep unabashed bigotry.
In its community guidelines, Yik Yak states that individuals are responsible for their posts, but little action is taken to deliver consequences to those who spread bigotry on the app. Posts can be reported, but each post has to be reviewed before it is taken down. The only other way to get a post removed is if it gets enough “downvotes” from other users. Beyond this, antisemitism is free to run rampant on Yik Yak.
An app with no system of accountability perpetuates a campus culture that allows and excuses antisemitism. Jewish students already feel targeted, whether by antisemitic graffiti and vandalism, BDS, and exclusion based on their identity. The app shut down in 2017 after a number of controversies on college campuses. Administrators are now faced once again with the task of keeping all antisemitism and bigotry off their campus by addressing Yik Yak’s comeback. Since its return, students on over 2,000 campuses have re-downloaded the platform and several student bodies have commented negatively on its return in their campus newspapers. The return of the app has been controversial among students who fear the consequences it is having on Jewish student communities.
University of Vermont:
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh:
Southern Methodist University: