The quirks of dynamic social spaces – reflections from Student Research Assistant Lilianaz Rouhani

Today we are delighted to bring you a blog post by one of our wonderful student research assistants, Lilianaz Rouhani, on her experience and observations from working on this project.

“Have you seen this app? It’s so cool! It’s like twitter, but anonymous and you only get posts from the area around you. It’s really popular in the US”.

Those were the words of the friend who introduced me and some other friends to Yik Yak. It was an evening after dinner. We were all sitting in the common room of the halls I was staying at during my first year at University. We spent the next couple of hours downloading the app and reading funny or interesting posts to each other. Yik Yak soon became very popular and people started posting on it during classes, on lonely weekend nights, or whenever they needed advice or help. On multiple occasions, it was compared to “the morning paper” on Yik Yak itself, as people claimed they read the feed while having breakfast and before starting their day.

This year, a little less than two years after I downloaded Yik Yak for the first time, I started working as a research assistant on a project studying student experience as reflected through anonymous social media. After spending two years reading and posting on Yik Yak myself, and having seen it at its peak time as well as its least popular periods, I now had the opportunity to look at the app from a whole new perspective.

Throughout the project, I saw Yik Yak transform from a platform where people shared all aspects of their university life, including posts about social life or night life, to one mainly used for procrastination while studying with the occasional post asking for academic advice or seeking pastoral support. An exception to this trend was the occasional collective reaction to university news where multiple people started posting about the topic and heated discussions were going on in the comments sections. Yik Yak, at its peak, was arguably successful in creating a sense of community, where people anonymously discussed their thoughts and concerns about different topics. The location restriction of the app inevitably made most of these topics university-related and so relatable to most of its users. In addition to these discussions, posts asking for help or advice, or expressing sadness or frustration were almost always faced with helpful answers or sympathetic and kind reactions. Even though Yik Yak had lost many of its users by September 2016, the fact that such posts still existed might be showing that users still used the app for this sense of community and for the opportunity to share and discuss topics of concern with other people who understand and relate to them.

With Yik Yak closing in May 2017, the main question for me, as someone who has followed Yik Yak closely since it launched, either as a user or as a research assistant, is if this sense of community is why people used the app. People generally got answers to questions, got sympathetic comments from complete strangers and had the opportunity of discussing different topics. The anonymity of the app allowed for the users to do so even with the topics they did not feel comfortable sharing in real life settings and without the fear and pressure of being recognised by someone. Is an anonymous community something students (or possibly the generation in general) needs and seeks? Observing new emerging anonymous social media might help find the answer.


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