Anonymity is the internet’s most sacred asset. The freedom to say anything, to ignore the draconian social rules of everyday life, is what made the anonymous messaging application Yik Yak popular after its initial launch in 2013. The app shut down in 2017 after cyberbullying concerns, but in August of this year, Yik Yak re-appeared in app stores. This Yik Yak is a buggy yet functional reincarnation of its previous self — the app centers around “yaks,” text posts with a 200-character limit shown to anyone within a five-mile radius. Users can upvote or downvote posts, and enough upvotes can earn yaks a spot on the “Local Top Yaks”; yaks that receive more than five downvotes are hidden from the feed. Each poster is nameless; the only way to tell users apart is from their representative emoji randomly chosen by the app — this can be changed at any time.
Whether it’s from the nostalgia of the 2010s, the excitement of returning to campus after a year and a half or the innate desire to connect with people, the Ann Arbor Yik Yak bubble has been populated with hundreds, possibly thousands, of University of Michigan students. From South Quad to the UGLi to North Campus to the Blue Leprechaun, Ann Arbor’s pandemic-weary student body has yikked every yak, putting every fleeting thought on blast no matter how obscene. It’s unclear exactly how many people actively use Yik Yak, but the archive of “Local Top Yaks” gives an idea — the most popular yak in the area exceeds 450 upvotes, which doesn’t account for the additional downvotes the post may have received or the users who simply didn’t interact.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve happily shoved aside impending midterms and assignments to pursue the more stimulating task of researching the University’s Yik Yak scene. At first, I tried to reach out to the Yik Yak community and ask them what they would like to say to The Daily. The responses included, but were not limited to: “Don’t go to class, eat ass,” “Fuck MSU,” “No one in the daily knows how big my dick is” and “balls.” With this, I determined that the best move forward would be to leave the yakkers up to their own devices and simply observe. So, I did — from morning to evening, I took in every new yak, scrolling with abandon during any and all spare moments. With a paralyzing amount of confessionals, complaints, jokes and drunken rambles, I was able to interpret Yik Yak as a microcosm of local youth culture.
Yik Yak is a place for speaking your mind — evidently, the minds of U-M students are fraught with dysfunctional group projects, midterms, Math 116 assignments on “WeBWorK” and the hassle of finding an unoccupied study space in any campus building. On a fundamental level, all students can relate to personal experiences with stress and exhaustion. After all, suffering is easier when it’s shared.
When the dining halls are open, you might see complaints about the long lines at South Quad or the quality of the food from that day. One user posts detailed dining hall reviews, ranking their experience with the culinary competence of Gordon Ramsay. Other notable yak topics include the resounding shrieks of 6 a.m. Amtrak trains, midnight fire alarms at the residence halls, offensive B.O. on the Bursley-Baits Loop and scathing fraternity slander.
The lighthearted innocence of Yik Yak stops there. Sometimes, actually most of the time, yaks lean towards the cruder side — on a mid-October evening, an influx of yaks revolved around an alleged poop-related incident in the Stockwell showers. With 62 upvotes, the sentiments of many residents were memorialized in the following yak, “Trying to go to sleep but I cannot knowing the stockwell shitter walks free.” As much as there was disgust, the jokes ran rampant too: one yak reads, “Just went to take a shit in Stockwell and there was a shower in the way??!” and another “McCarthyism, but it’s the poop in the shower.”
On the other end of the “out-of-pocket” spectrum, hormones rage with reckless abandon. After the sun goes down, roughly one out of every three yaks is a cry for help, an S.O.S. from the throes of loneliness. I couldn’t forget them if I tried: “I’m so down bad I might just try finding love with the next snapchat sex bot that adds me” and “what are boobs? I’m a visual learner btw” are the tamest of the tame. The efforts of Yik Yak’s community guardrails are of no avail of even the most vulgar expressions of biological needs.
The “Leaders and Best” of Ann Arbor share a propensity for all things toilet-related, whether it’s debates of the best bathroom on campus or anecdotes of traumatizing experiences — I wouldn’t address the fixation on potty humor if it wasn’t for its alarming frequency. Yakkers take full advantage of anonymity, “I left the longest log of my life in the chem building I hope y’all enjoy the scent wafting around the atrium it’s all me” and “Didnt even get the hot sauce at chipotle and it still rocked my intestines and gave me diarrhea” are among the ranks of the most graphic poop-themed yaks.
With this, phase one of my Yik Yak research hit a dead end. My corneas have reduced to sludge, and my brain has done the same. If there is anything to learn from being Yik Yak’s single most devoted user, it’s that Yik Yak nurtures a large community of students — you can laugh at the absurdity all you want, but in the words of a fellow yakker, “I love how absolutely balls to the wall insane y’all are.”
Daily Arts Writer Laine Brotherton can be reached at email@example.com.