Why one college wants to ban Yik Yak

'This is anything but an attack on free speech. It's a defense of free speech,' says president

Yik Yak-based harassment led officials and the student government at The College of Idaho to ask the app's developers to block it from campus, Anna Webb reports for the Idaho Statesman.

Background on the app

The social network and cell phone application Yik Yak allows users to post anonymous messages that only people in the same area can read. The network has been gaining popularity on college campuses nationwide, where it has stirred up controversy. The anonymity of the network occasionally attracts spiteful comments and bullying, leading some campuses to ban the network entirely.

Yik Yak has the ability to block the app via geo-fences around certain areas, such as high or middle schools, but is not obligated to do so.

What professors should do about hate speech on Yik Yak

Why students want to ban it

The College of Idaho's student safety office has received seven reports from individuals who said they felt personally threatened by Yik Yak posts.

This spring, the student senate passed a resolution to block the app from campus.

"We did what many colleges have done: We got together to make a statement against Yik Yak," says Student Sen. Matt Vraspir.

President Marv Henberg has said the app violates the school's honor code and breaks down its sense of community. 

In March, the school requested that the developers disable the app within the campus borders. So far, Yik Yak has not responded. If the company continues to disregard the request, the schools' IT department will block the app from the college's Wi-Fi, but that does not prevent people from accessing the site through their cellular networks.

Professors hijack Yik-Yak, spread positive messages

The free speech argument

Following the student senate's vote to ban the app, users took to Yik Yak to argue for rights of anonymity and free speech.

Leo Morales, acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, says he does not hold a position on Yik Yak, but is closely watching issues surrounding it.

"What's at stake here is the broader principle of expression. Even if it's at a private institution like The College of Idaho, the message the ban on Yik Yak sends could be concerning, particularly at a university where expression should be protected and supported," he says.

But others say that free speech and anonymity are incompatible. "Free speech, at least in the academic context, requires full debate and the ownership of one's opinions. You have to know the source before you can have free and open debate," says Henberg.

"This is anything but an attack on free speech. It's a defense of free speech," he adds (Webb, Idaho Statesman, 5/14).

The takeaway: One college wants to ban Yik Yak from campus to protect the community from hateful speech and threats.

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