One of my best friends visited me this weekend, and we reminisced about the time we did our best to shut down the use of an app on our college campus (and how we suppressed free speech in the process). The memory seemed pretty far fetched, so wanting to remember more of the details, I went back through my old journals and found an entry from August 2015 where I described our mission. In typical Most Boring Person fashion, I’m going to react to it:
Tonight was a pretty cool night that showed that when people band together to respond to something evil, change can occur. Now before you start thinking that my friends and I began to take down ISIS, let me explain. I am part of a student government (SGA) committee called the Campus Community Committee (CCC), and one goal that we have all passionately gotten behind is to remove this atrocious app called Yik Yak from being used on the campus.
Both my use of dramatic language and the number of abbreviations I used in my older journals are somewhat jarring.
Yik Yak is an app that allows users to anonymously post random statuses and photos without anyone ever knowing who they are. It uses your location to find other posters in your immediate area, so you are only seeing messages from those around you. As you can imagine, posting on an anonymous program is not the best way to build a community. What it does is it gives people the confidence to say things that they would never say if their name were attached to the message. This has led to countless posts that demean students, tear apart chapel messages, and say truly vile things. My committee is obviously not a fan of this since we are trying to make the student community bond much tighter, so our leader had an idea to take the app down in this area.
I don’t have any idea if Yik Yak is still a thing, but boy was it the app to have in 2015. I didn’t ever have it since I was someone who was always exceedingly far behind on trends, but I remember hearing about the app on a near-constant basis from various people on campus. They would brag about the cruel remarks someone had made about fellow students or the secrets they leaked, and I would sit in shock and wonder what its appeal was. This limited interaction with the app made it easy for me to agree to assist with the plan to extinguish it on campus.
Naturally, we do not have the power to remove the app from the App Store or ban it from campus, but our committee leader did come up with a plan that gives us the power to stop the statuses and photos from remaining on the app. A message can be upvoted as many times as possible, but it can only reach negative five downvotes before it is removed from the feed. He took this knowledge and crafted the idea of building a group of people who hate the app and would be willing to go on the app regularly to downvote all of the posts.
It’s truly amazing how resourceful college students can be when crafting a plan of attack.
Each member of CCC had the assignment to find at least three people to bring to a meeting that we were to have tonight. At the meeting there were over thirty individuals in the room, and we were able to get our vision across to the group. Once we had everyone filled in on what we planned on doing, we all downloaded the app and went to town downvoting all of the posts in the feed. It was so cool to watch post after post disappear and to see how passionate everyone in the room was about taking a small step to make the campus community stronger by weeding out the garbage that is seeping in.
Looking back on my description of this night makes me cringe a bit because we were an intense group of students. Anyone walking by the SGA office where we were camped out probably assumed that a cult meeting was in progress, but being on the inside made it feel like I was a part of a movement (think, Occupy Wall Street but with a dumb app instead of the 1% as the object of our fury).
We will never be able to fully “cleanse” the campus of things like Yik Yak, but that does not mean that we should not make an effort to stand up against things that are so blatantly wrong. I just hope that the people who post the awful messages on the app see what we are doing and examine their lives, because there is definitely stuff that they should be concerned about.
My use of the word “cleanse” is certainly unsettling, but I know the committee had good intentions in wanting to make our campus more positive. The problem is that we didn’t stop to consider what gave us the right to control what could and couldn’t be said by our fellow students. Now that I am older, I would like to think I have a more developed view of how to combat negativity, but I hope that I can use this experience as a reminder of how powerful it can be when people unite against a common adversary.