According to the majority of those who used it, the anonymous, location-based message board Yik Yak was a bastion of toxicity, gossip and general cruelty. During the height of its popularity in 2014 and 2015, people — mostly college students — used its anonymity to make threats, bully each other and promote violence, going so far as to initiate threats of shootings, bombs and even murder. At one point, Yik Yak reached such a fever pitch of awfulness that a slew of schools all over the country banned students from using it on school grounds.
Not for me, though — I peaked on it. On several occasions during my freshman year of college (2014-2015), I was cited as one of the hottest girls on campus, something that cemented my narcissism and over-inflated my ego for life. Beyond that, I enjoyed how Yik Yak allowed people to talk shit about the rich kids who pretended they were poor, the seemingly political decision some students made to never wear deodorant and the miserable lives of my school’s administrative staff. With such plentiful anonymity, we could say how we really felt about things, calling out the truths we’d be too scared to address were our Yaks attached to our names. Though I’d long since moved on, I was sad to hear about its demise in 2017 — apparently, it had been bought out and its engineers jumped ship.
But just this week, Yik Yak announced their return to the iOS app store. That’s right, baby — it’s 2021 and our personal confessional booth for shit-talking, cyberbullying and thirsting is back.
I redownloaded the app as soon as I heard the news. Given that I no longer live on a college campus and the five-mile radius my app covers features nearly all of New York City, I’m no longer experiencing the same hyper-local content I did at my 800-student school in Sarasota, Florida. Nevertheless, I was glad to see its old spirit of shared, location-based shitposting hasn’t changed. There were a few reports of NYU kids eating grass and homeless guys jacking off on the subway, and one person graciously shared the code to the Long Island City Chipotle bathroom (thanks for that).
But while Yik Yak’s rebirth still needs time to blossom, it’s already filling a gap that other social media platforms had yet to fulfill in its absence — it’s the only app that allows for truly anonymous conversations about mostly un-serious local matters without photos, videos or even a username to trace comments back to. As was the case with the resurgence of randomized video-chatting and instant messenger sites like Omegle earlier this year, there seems to be a genuine nostalgia for spaces like these, a harkening back to an era where people could say or do anything they wanted online without repercussions.
At the same time, much of the conversation about Yik Yak’s return is centered around the toxicity it once bolstered. Because of the anonymity, it was often used to share not just unpopular opinions and controversial takes, but racism, misogyny and threats of violence. In 2015, there were numerous cases of death threats, warnings of school shootings and even a case where a University of Mary Washington student was murdered after being the target of numerous harassing Yik Yak posts.
But despite its links to multiple horrors, most of those discussing it on Twitter are embracing it with a sense of nostalgia, even for the toxicity and cyberbullying it was so well known for. This could either be because it’s a relic of the time just before cancel culture took off or because they associate it with their college days — either way, they’re discussing it with humor, and promising to return to the app again.
“I graduated college in 2015 and Yik Yak wasn’t really on my radar as anything more than a small novelty,” says Robert Martin, a 28-year-old in San Francisco who recently downloaded the app out of morbid curiosity. “Always heard it was incredibly toxic. I wanted to see what the comeback would be.”
So far, it hasn’t been the trainwreck he’d hoped for. He feels the app is half-baked, and that Yik Yak is largely just testing the waters to see what kind of comeback they can have. Most of the posts he’s seeing in San Francisco are just benign shitposts, and that’s by design — since its return, Yik Yak has announced a slew of restrictive community “guardrails” to better prevent the hate speech, bullying and violence that the app previously housed, and at least as of now, it seems to be a slightly friendlier place.
Other users, like myself, are rejoining the app because they remember it more fondly from their late teens and early 20s. “When it launched in 2013, I was college-aged and living near Gonzaga University,” says Tyler Scruggs, a 26-year-old in Atlanta. “I ended up making a lot of friends there because I had the gall to show up at parties [the invites were posted on Yik Yak]. In Spokane, there was a conveyor belt sushi place where everything became half-off before closing, so there’d be a Yak like, ‘I’m going to the sushi place, meet me there.’ I met IRL friends I still visit overseas and will probably see throughout my life.”
For Scruggs, Yik Yak has always been about utility — it’s where you go when you need information about something local. “I’m really excited for it to be back because of its local nature,” he continues. “It’s less performative than Nextdoor and less pressure than Grindr. It’s such a community-oriented place, and with no photos or identities, it makes it more about who has the most useful information.”
Scruggs predicts he’ll be using it in the same way he would the Atlanta crime/gossip Instagram, @atlscoop. “It’s not crimeporn like @atlscoop, but it’s potentially just as useful,” he says. Similarly, on my Yik Yak feed, people are posting how they will no longer be turning to apps like Citizen for local crime updates.
It remains to be seen whether a new generation of college kids will use Yik Yak for the same evils as mine, if they end up adopting it at all. For now, it seems to primarily be populated by people who remember what that first wave of pure chaos was like, and despite everything, we’re running straight toward it. “Hot vax summer,” whatever that was supposed to be, has been a failure. We’re ready to talk some shit again. Hopefully, someone posts something nice about me, too.