The app Yik Yak, largely popularized by college communities, is a social media app where users can interact with their peers in a completely anonymous manner. There are no usernames, no biographies and no followers. Content on the app ranges widely, creating a unique online environment. University of Maine students often take to Yik Yak to complain about various things pertaining to campus, academics or their personal lives.
“It’s almost like a parasocial relationship with gossip and I like to know what my fellow students complain about on campus. Right now its loud neighbors, the heat, and the lack of building AC.” said fourth year student Lucca Hamina.
Many students feel a convoluted sense of connection to their peers on Yik Yak, despite the app’s often superficial content. It’s a place where students will have an immediate audience, one that will personally understand and likely agree with their comments and grievances. Even something as simple as a joint complaint about a fire alarm or a noise problem in a dorm can make students feel understood. Still, lack of identification on the app prohibits any sort of meaningful connection.
“It’s a sense of community in a really shallow way,” third year student Pierce Varneke said.
Sometimes, however, students do take to the app to discuss serious and important issues.
“…it is mostly centered around the hot weather and lack of AC, but complaints about student working conditions and stressful course work also come up,” Hamina said.
Many students download Yik Yak simply to understand more about their peers’ thoughts and concerns. Some students use the app on a frequent or semi-frequent basis, while a select few have never downloaded it.
“My main reason was initially curiosity, but now I’ve been using it to get a better idea of what student’s grievances are for the campus and the university,” Hamina said.
Aside from frequent complaints or pessimistic comments, students sometimes take to Yik Yak to advertise social gatherings.
“That could impact people socializing in a better way or worse way,” Varneke said.
Although some might use Yik Yak to find social engagements or clubs to join, the overall consensus is that Yik Yak hasn’t changed the UMaine community in any concrete way. It’s a small facet of modern college life rather than an important part of it.
“I haven’t felt any type of major impact,” Hamina said.
Yik Yak college communities, such as the official UMaine section, seem to be utilized more frequently by those living on-campus. This is due to the nature of student complaints—many pertaining to things like dining hall food, campus activities or clubs. It allows students in different dorms to easily and efficiently connect.
However, many grievances voiced about the app itself centered around the overly pessimistic qualities of most comments.
“The worst thing about the app is that people use it to be overly negative and start rumors,” Hamina said. “I’ve seen a few things of people complaining about issues that they would do better to talk to an RA about.”
Yik Yak users, especially those on college campuses, ought to be prepared to encounter spur-of-the-moment and impulsive comments from their peers.
“They say a lot of things that we don’t want to say out loud,” Varneke said.
Although many comments might be frivolous and virtually harmless, Yik Yak has a rocky history with online violence. Almost immediately after its launch in 2013, Yik Yak experienced issues with threats of violence, bullying and harassment. The app shut down in 2017 and relaunched in 2021. It has been operating since then.
The anonymity of the app often encourages students to post in an unapologetic and sometimes violent manner.
“I think anonymity certainly changes how people use anything,” Hamina said.
In the case of the UMaine Yik Yak community, current comments center largely around the start of the semester and new changes at the university. Many have been discussing the new Kiwibot food delivery system, air conditioning in campus classrooms and social gatherings.
As a source for information and entertainment, Yik Yak is in the center of the online environment of students at UMaine.