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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

OPINION: Men’s Basketball just won’t back down
Abigail Taylor, Contributing writer • February 27, 2024

Mean what you yak, and yak what you mean

“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This phrase, written by writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, perfectly captures Voltaire’s beliefs about the freedom of speech, and the ideas conveyed are fundamental to the freedom of speech in the United States. But I can’t help but wonder what Hall and Voltaire would say about Yik Yak.

Yik Yak. I rode the Yak for a while when it became the new “thing.” Some of it was funny, a lot of it was stupid, a little bit of it was just plain mean or hurtful. I posted rarely, if ever, in accordance to my own clever insights (let’s emphasize the rare), and spent a lot of time up-voting or down-voting. Mostly, Yik Yak was just another icon on my iPhone I worked my way through as I procrastinated homework or mindlessly checked while watching Netflix. But gradually, the Yaks became lots of the same old jokes about the same few issues (Burwell, AirTerrier, laundry to name a few) and the number of cruel and hateful comments rose.

Freedom of speech is important. It’s fundamental to the society in which we live, and it is arguably the most important freedom we have. The ability to speak openly and freely without reprisal is essential. But we often take this freedom for granted. In forums such as Yik Yak where anyone with the app can say anything anonymously weakens the value of freedom of speech.

In Voltaire’s day, you could express your opinion openly and freely, but you had to claim it. You were entitled to your opinion, but it was often best kept to yourself unless you could back it up. Nowadays, with anonymity, you can say your opinion without anyone questioning or challenging you. And no, the comment option on Yik Yak does not count as you challenging someone’s opinion or making them defend their point.

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My point is, when you can say anything without any possibility of rebuttal, your argument doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t have to have a leg to stand on, because no one can make you defend it. That’s where you get posts where people blindly spout incorrect information or statements that hold no value or truth. And people can say mean, horrible, racist, intolerant things without ever having to explain themselves or the reasoning behind their opinions.

You’re probably saying, “Chill out dude, it’s just an app, no need to get all serious and harsh about it.” But it’s not just an app. Like it or not, Yik Yak is a representation of who we are as a campus community. If asked, how many people do you think would let others look at what they’ve yakked? I’m going to hazard a guess that very, very few people would. That further goes to show that people post comments they would not make without the anonymity of the app. They don’t want to own up to the comments they’ve made.

I’m not saying get rid of Yik Yak. Plenty of people I know have already deleted it, myself included. But there’s nothing wrong in having it. What I think we should do as a campus and a community is work to clean it up, turn it back into the community forum its founders intended it to be. Don’t be tolerant of cruel or hateful comments, don’t allow people to abuse the freedom of speech we have. Don’t just downvote; the report option is there for a reason. Ask yourselves if what’s on Yik Yak is the way you want to be represented, and if it’s not, do something about it.

—Leah Hunter

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