With great anonymity comes great responsibility

By now, chances are you have read (or at least heard about) Barbara Snyder’s email in response to the racist Yik Yak posts made during the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation protests. Without reservation, The Observer editorial staff can say that we agree with her letter and applaud her for writing it.

However, while she took a bold and admirable stance in her letter, the fact that she had to in the first place is truly just sad. Are we so immature that we lose all decency the moment we get even the smallest amount of anonymity? The response of many of our students on Yik Yak’s open forum seems to have been much like that of a middle school boy seeing a blank bathroom stall and automatically decorating it with a Sharpied representation of a certain aspect of the male anatomy.

In response to the argument that only a small minority of students make these offensive and racist comments—and, to the credit of our community, are quickly down-voted out of existence by the accepting majority—a recent poll on the Observer website shows that this issue is far from resolved. When asked whether they feel that people at CWRU are accepting of all races and cultures, only 23 percent of the 328 respondents said they did. 46 percent said that we are accepting but could still do more, and 31 percent said they did not think that CWRU is accepting of different races and cultures. Clearly, the hate speech (because let’s be frank, that’s what those posts were) of a few members of our campus community is negatively affecting the experience of far too many of our students.

In our second issue of this year, Kassie Stewart addressed this misuse of an anonymous platform in a column. At that point, with Yik Yak still a fairly new force on campus, she noted with disappointment that its primary use seemed to be as an extra-judgemental Gossip Girl copycat, full of snide remarks aiming to harm others’ reputations. A couple of months later, students’ use of the app does not seem to have improved much, if at all.

While Stewart ended her article with a call to students to delete the app, this won’t necessarily solve the problem. Anyone can create a Twitter account without including any identifying information, meaning that many platforms could just as easily house students’ anonymous opinions. In addition to that, it’s fully possible that Yik Yak is just the first of its kind, and a decline in its use would just prompt others to create similar apps to take its place. Hence, rather than doing away with the means without addressing the ends, let’s just solve the real problem here which is an immature and thoughtless response to the freedom of anonymity.

We are all adults here, and it’s about time we act like it. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile; before you post something to Yik Yak, take a moment to consider whether it’s really a constructive, useful addition to our campus dialogue. If it is something that will hurt others and alienate whole segments of our campus, do us all (yourself included—you’re a part of this community, too) a favor and hold down the backspace key. Your college years aren’t just a chance to adjust to your life’s newfound freedom before you go out into the real world and lose your security net. It’s also a chance to adjust to your freedom of expression and learn to be your own filter.

As Snyder wrote in the email that prompted this editorial, “Debates and dialogue do not inevitably translate to consensus, but they always carry the possibility that participants leave with greater appreciation of other perspectives.” Following these words, let’s use the Yik Yak to continue discussing the relevant issues on campus. Instead of venting whatever rude or thoughtless complaint comes to mind, though, let’s use it productively, as a means to engage in a discussion and make our campus a more accepting and a more open community.