TITLE: A Quick Word on the Yik Yak Controversy AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 23, 2014 4:21 PM DESC: ----- BODY:
There has been some controversy on my campus recently about a slew of hurtful posts made on the social media application Yik Yak. The following is something I wrote for my intro CS students, with minor changes.
Computing is often in the news, but we don't talk much about current events in class. That's not the focus of this course, and we have plenty to do... But the recent news story in the Northern Iowan about Yik Yak has been on my mind. Yik Yak is a social media app that lets people make comments anonymously and vote on other people's comments. This kind of app has many possible uses, some of which are positive. Many people live under conditions where they need to be able to communicate anonymously. Unfortunately, some people in the UNI area have been using it to post hurtful comments about various groups. This behavior is simply mean. Yik Yak is a social app, so the controversy is about people and how they behave. In this regard, my reaction has been similar to so many others' reactions. I am always sad to be reminded that people actually think such things, and sadder to know that they feel compelled to say them out loud. To do so anonymously is an act of cowardice. But this controversy is also about what we do, because Yik Yak is a program. We call it an "app", but that's just the term du jour. It is a computer program. Programmers wrote it. We could have an interesting discussion about apps like this: their uses, the good and bad they enable, how to grow and guide communities of users, and so on. I do not use Yik Yak and am not a member of its community. I don't know much beyond what has been reported about it in the media. However, I have been part of Internet-based communities since I was in college, and they all seem to have a lot in common with one another. So this situation feels quite familiar to me. I am not going to lecture a group of young people about the ways they communicate and congregate on-line. Let me just say this. When you learn to program, you inherit power to affect the world. You can make things, programs and apps and services that real people use. You can choose to use your power to do good things, to make the world better. Or you can not choose to. Not choosing may mean creating something whose effects you did not consider, or whose community behaves in ways you did not intend. Please take your power seriously. Think about the effects of what you do when you write a program. Choose wisely. -----