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Anonymous apps on the rise across college campuses

Mar 23, 2015

Credit Flickr user Adam Fagen / Flickr

Since it was launched in 2013, the anonymous application Yik Yak has spread across college campuses. Messages are sorted by geographic location and only posts within a mile and a half radius appear.

So it's perfect for saying what you want, about whom you want without anyone knowing it's you, and that is posing problems and challenges for schools around the country.

Director of Social Media at the University of Michigan Nikki Sunstrum says Yik Yak isn't the only anonymous app growing in popularity. She says most are text based and allow a freedom of speech you don't have on other networks.

Sunstrum recently returned from the South by Southwest conference where she was able to talk to the co-founders of Yik Yak.

She says they see the application as news and geography based first, and anonymity second. But Sunstrum says this view of the app is much different than how she has seen it used.

"We see people spitting out anything they want with little consequences," Sunstrum says.

Michigan State University recently saw a shooting threat that was administered via Yik Yak. And Eastern Michigan University faculty members have expressed concern about Yik Yak creating an unsafe working environment when anonymous comments are posted about them even as they are teaching.

Sunstrum says U of M's social media office keeps track of apps such as Yik Yak have a sense of what is happening at the school. "We're being proactive," she says.

With Yik Yak's rapid increase in popularity, Sunstrum says the co-founders are still working to address concerns, including changes to prevent threats, and reminders about using vulgar language.

Users have a say in what gains popularity on the application, and if a message receives five votes against it the post is deleted.

"What we see on campus is the community supports each other and that's probably why we haven't had many large scale incidents," Sunstrum says.