***Trigger Warning for violent, misogynistic language related to rape/sexual assault.***
Those who wonder if UNC’s new sexual assault policy is necessary need only to visit the popular social media app Yik Yak to see just how necessary it is.
Yik Yak is the newest social media craze; the app had 240,000 users within five months of its release. Among posts encouraging school spirit and lighthearted observations about students watching Netflix in the libraries lays a much darker scene.
It’s difficult to scroll through the Yik Yak feed without seeing at least one mention of the new sexual assault policy. These posts go from mild (“It’s official, unc hates men”) to downright scary (“Hey girl, I have a knife and a penis, and one of them is going inside you.”)
The popular adage “never read the comment section” does not apply to Yik Yak; the purpose of the app is to host an unfiltered, nameless slew of posts. With any app that encourages anonymous posts, you can expect extreme opinions to surface. Researchers have even given this phenomenon its own name, the online disinhibition effect.
Users are free to post, comment, and vote on witticisms and critiques, all in the hopes of improving their “Yakarma,” a tally of how many positive and negative votes and interactions they’ve had on the app. Users use the app’s anonymity to their advantage, posting controversial and even offensive posts in the hopes of sparking a argument to garner more votes.
One can assume many “Yakkers” downloaded the app merely to read posts without interacting, and are not posting frightening posts regarding sexual assault. However, the fact remains that over half of the students this on campus are reading these frightening posts.
What do these posts mean in a larger context? As in, how do these internet “trolls” affect the campus offline? For one thing, it shows a need for continued education on the sexual assault policy. Campus officials should put the most up-to-date information regarding the policy out for students, before students are misinformed by anonymous opinions on popular social media apps.
If students consistently read about the policy discriminating against men (one user called the policy “so f*cking one-sided”), they might not realize the effort the university put into making the policy gender-inclusive. When the Yik Yak feed is clogged with victim-blaming (“It doesn’t matter y’all come and drink you know the risk you sluts”), the myriad of options campus offers victims of sexual assault fall into the shadows.
The new policy regarding sexual assault on campus is a step in the right direction for UNC. Now, it’s time to use the named, identified facts in it to change conversations about sexual assault on campus, online and off.
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