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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Researchers Suggest Doing Research before Blocking Yik Yak

Some colleges have called for the banning of Yik Yak, a social media application to which users centered around a geographic area can post anonymously. But University of Florida Health researchers have found that the decision to ban the app may be a little hasty.

The hyperlocal app has gotten a lot of media attention for being a platform on which students have posted threats and racial slurs. Now UF researchers are calling for a broader, more systematic analysis of Yik Yak’s postings, based on their study of the early days of the app. The UF researchers’ study, recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, is the first to examine postings on the social media site.

“Our analysis was brief and focused on a specific point in time — not enough time to make an accurate representation of postings on Yik Yak,” said lead author Dr. Erik Black, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics and a student in the master’s in public health program at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “But the most intriguing finding with this study is we didn’t see what we expected to see.”

That is, the researchers did not find postings, called yaks, that would warrant the site to be banned by college campuses. However, a more thorough investigation of Yik Yak’s postings could build a broader understanding of the kind of discourse happening on the application, Dr. Black said.

“I think it’s also important to understand that at the time we conducted our research, Yik Yak had not yet been used as a vehicle for making violent threats to campuses,” Dr. Black said. “Since we collected our data, the nature of use may have changed in ways that are not recognized by our analysis.”

The researchers say they did find profanity and other similar language.

“There was definitely profanity and some aspects that would make anyone uncomfortable — but those aspects weren’t in any way worrisome since the profanity wasn’t directed at anyone,” said Dr. Lindsay Thompson, a physician in the department of pediatrics and co-author of the paper. “I think having a healthy skepticism is appropriate. But in this situation, among college students, fears and moves toward censorship would be unfounded.”

The researchers collected 4,001 posts over three days from 42 different campuses across the United States. Although users have to be on a particular college campus to access that college’s Yik Yak stream, outsiders can view those posts passively, according to the app’s guidelines.

The researchers found that 45 percent of the posts focused on campus life, announcements and proclamations. About 13 percent of the posts contained profanity or vulgarities, and about 9 percent related to dating, sex and sexuality.

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