by Niki Messmore
Social media platforms that provide anonymity are rarely used for the force of good. The opportunity to step outside of social norms is tempting when provided an opportunity to be anonymous on the internet. So what happens when a small number of individuals at the 2015 NASPA Conference (#naspa15) begin using the app Yik Yak?
The following: Yaks complaining of sessions, trying to hook up, sexist and sexually suggestive remarks about women, body shaming, entitlement of a ‘vacation’, etc. However, on the positive side there are Yaks with thoughtful ideas and social justice education. A full list of screenshots has been compiled on Storify, along with some Twitter commentary.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with Yik Yak. This social media platform is like “The Force” from Star Wars – it exists and can be utilized by either the Light or the Dark Side, depending on the character and the choices of the people using it.
So why do a small number of individuals out of a conference of 8,000 people opt to embrace the Dark Side? Dr. John Suler of Rider University argues in the article “The Online Disinhibition Effect” (2004) that there are six factors why people engage in nasty antics on the internet – dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority.
That’s deeper than my word count will allow. However, Suler had a nice summary: “Rather than thinking of disinhibition as the revealing of an underlying “true self,” we can conceptualize it as a shift to a constellation within self-structure, involving clusters of affect and cognition that differ from the in-person constellation.”
So it’s not necessarily that we are seeing the “true selves” of these likely Student Affairs professionals and graduate students when they make awful anonymous statements, but rather we are seeing an aspect of these folks under a certain set of circumstances.
That still doesn’t make the issue any less awful.
I am absolutely disgusted and appalled by the sexually suggestive remarks about women that were made [link]. Some appear benign, perhaps even categorized as compliments rather than harassment, but the individual who wanted to “call dibs” on the “Jennifer Lawrence look-alike” is a total creep. And the body shaming comment [link]? Please have several seats.
Besides exposing some sexism and sizism, the Yaks have also shown something that we already know – some folks believe that conferences are vacations. Now, sometimes people have to fully fund their conference attendance so I say they can vacation their little heart out. But the entitlement of some people, such as this Yak, is eye-wincing. Comments like this also go back to the issue of “work-life balance”. To be honest, we probably don’t have any balance because we waste so much time discussing this subject, but there is something seriously wrong when student affairs professionals feel their conference trip is the only time they get to be away from students…
The responses to these Yaks has been interesting. Many have harshly condemned the yaks, a few have joked about it and don’t take them seriously, and some see the Yaks as part of a larger professional crisis.
Regarding the latter, I have to say this: Student Affairs does exist in external formulas when it comes to the profession’s credibility. I’ve seen quite a few tweets worrying how these Yaks could ruin ‘everything we’ve worked for’ to make ourselves credible to faculty, administration, and other key populations (something I think we need to stop worrying about altogether). But let’s stop that hand-wringing right here: Student Affairs has problems, yes, but so does every other profession. Academic Affairs is always in the news for scandals, whether it is the behavior of professors smoking on airplanes or the many accounts of racism, and sexual harassment/assault. We’re gonna be alright, #SAfam.
So, how should we respond?
The statement by NASPA was a great addition to the chorus of folks calling out the behavior on Twitter. I hope we continue to have this conversation within professional development for staff and graduate students. Additionally, I hope that we can be professional in these conversations online and offline – already I’ve seen comments that I perceive as unprofessional in the method of how they are critiquing the #naspa15 Yik Yak people.
PLEASE watch this TedTalk by Monica Lewinisky (“The Price of Shame“) that has been receiving acclaim lately. Recognize that cyber-bullying hurts – this is for both the people that have been mentioned on YikYak as well as how we treat the people who made the mistake of posting harmful and sometimes disturbing comments.
In addition, please read this series of tweets by @BlackGirlDanger on how we shouldn’t publicly shame people who mess up and instead provide space for them to do better. Remember – even Darth Vader was able to redeem himself from the Dark Side.