Journalism’s Presence in Anonymity

It doesn’t sound reliable at all. Mostly because it isn’t. For professionals, at least.

I’ve talked about various platforms of social media in previous articles. Some work better than others when it comes to reporting news, but they all had one common theme; they weren’t anonymous. These social networks all required the registration of an account before posting. For journalism, mandatory accounts are a must because it gives credentials, not only for a station, but for those watching or posting.

Then come the inclusion of anonymous social networks. Take the one below me, Yik Yak.

It doesn’t particularly scream “journalistic integrity”, does it?

Yik Yak is a platform of social media that initially existed on phones only, but has recently expanded to computers as well. The big appeal of Yik Yak is that, on top of being anonymous, individual “chat rooms” are created based on location. This makes it so the chat room of Lyndon State College is different from the one in Burlington, Vermont. Furthermore, people are only able to post in the chat room that corresponds with their location. I could end this article here saying journalists shouldn’t touch it, but I want to go more in depth about what Yik Yak has to offer.

Let’s take a look at the most recent posts for Lyndon State.

Posts range from the weather, to the college, to any sort of thought the user thinks up. Users have the option to make a screen name and use it in posts if they wish, like the post on top. In a sort, it’s like an anonymous location-based Twitter, but there are still some unique features to it. See the icon at the bottom that says “herds”? These are daily topics that show up, that anyone around the world can post in. These posts are reviewed and eventually shown if they are approved. The herds posted on the day I’m writing this article look like this:

Not quite the same at Snapchat’s “Discovery” tool

It’s light hearted for sure, but depending on the day it can vary. For example, although I don’t have a screenshot of this, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels there was a herd dedicated to sending support and best wishes.

So far, I’ve shown the uses Yik Yak has as a platform of social media, but is there really any journalistic potential? Well, maybe a little bit. It definitely shouldn’t be considered by any news station, but it’s an option for people to use if something happens in the area. Awhile back, there was an ambulance at my college campus. After I learned why the ambulance was there, I made a post on Yik Yak so people would be informed.

It was a small post, but it got some reception, meaning people read it and became informed. Another instance was a car crash that happened just earlier this week.

A not-so-pretty conversation

This post demonstrates a downside of anonymity. Without names, anyone can post anything without any trace of their identity. This leads to comments that can be all sorts of negative. This is the biggest downside and reason why journalists shouldn’t touch this app. It simply doesn’t provide the opportunity for professionalism.

The interesting part of all these social media platforms is that they have journalistic potential, no matter how large or small. In the case of Yik Yak, or any anonymous social media for that matter, there is only a few chances it can be used to help inform the public. Should this be used by professionals? Hell no. There is no way to see the credentials of who is posting, and there are plenty of other ways to verify information that are way more reliable. It’s better off being used solely by the general public, and mostly for non-journalistic reasons. With mostly everything working against it, however, it is a decent method of talking about recent happenings with members of specific communities. Like the ambulance or car crash, people can quickly hop on Yik Yak on their phones and talk with each other about it. Yik Yak, and other anonymous platforms, has a place, maybe not in professional journalism, but more in citizen journalism. There really aren’t any other places to talk about events before they get posted on other forms of social media. For example, people could use Yik Yak to talk about the car crash before an official news station gets the chance to make a Facebook post on it. It’s situational for sure, but it can be used as a means of communication.