Education

Universities consider blocking controversial app

Posted February 5, 2015 7:07 p.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2015 11:28 p.m. EST

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is considering banning a smartphone app that some say encourages hate speech, but other schools say free speech among students needs to be promoted.

Yik Yak allows users post anonymously to a local bulletin board, and those posts can be seen only by people in a certain geographic area.

"People have been saying some very racist, very hurtful things," said Ashley Winkfield, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who has kept a running tab of "yaks" that she finds troubling.

During the height of the "Black Lives Matter" protests on campus last fall, for example, one person posted, "I really hate blacks, I'm going home where there aren't any."

Another poster said, "the way blacks are acting right now kind of justify a slavery."

Winkfield said the anonymous posts scare her and are making her increasingly distrustful.

"These are people we are going to class with, people who we see every day, and they might have some type of ill will toward us," she said.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp said UNC-Chapel Hill officials are examining options for dealing with Yik Yak.

"I think it adds little to no value to our community and creates more problems for our students than it will ever be worth," Crisp said in a statement. "We want Carolina to be a place where people feel comfortable talking about race and other issues, and we are working hard to create opportunities for them to do that in a constructive and respectful way.”

Utica College in New York and Norwich University in Vermont banned the app last fall by blocking it from their schools' wireless networks. Clemson University considered a ban before deciding against it.

Duke University and North Carolina State University said they have no plans to block students from posting on Yik Yak.

"On this campus and I think on most, what we tell students is freedom of expression, even offensive freedom expression, is what we cherish," Duke Student Affairs Vice President Larry Moneta said.

Yik Yak representatives couldn't be reached Thursday for comment.

Winkfield said she would like to see UNC-Chapel Hill stop the yaks on campus.

"As a social media platform, it has the potential to be a place where people can really speak about their feelings anonymously, but that also means they are not accountable for what they’re saying," she said. "People have taken the liberty of anonymity and have gone completely off the deep end."

Experts say banning Yik Yak is merely symbolic because students can continue to access the app through their phone's data.

Moneta said students would be better off just tuning the app out.

"Our position has always been every student has the right to avoid it simply stop looking at it, and in time, it will fade into oblivion as every predecessor has done," he said.