Social media socializes student body


By Camron Owens

Most of us are probably familiar with the social media app Yik Yak, which has spread across campus smart phones like wildfire in the past few months.

It’s also no surprise that Yik Yak, an app that lets you post anonymously, can have many offensive, insensitive or hurtful posts, which has caused a lot of controversy about how the app is being used. Besides bans already in place at some high schools and elementary schools, colleges such as Utica College in New York have even banned the app from their campus.  

The University of Illinois has one of the most active Yik Yak user regions in the state. With the user activity doubling over the course of the past year or so, it’s understandable that some Yakkers on our campus fear for the future of the app at the University due to controversy at other schools.

While our university currently has no plans to ban the app, it does bring up a bigger question about our campus involvement and presence on social media. When used properly, social media sources can help us create a unified campus community online.

It’s undeniable that social media can be used in negative ways. However, banning or discouraging the use of these apps and sites is a preposterous idea when we consider just how beneficial they can be. 

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In the case of Yik Yak, the app is not inherently evil or offensive. In fact, Yik Yak continues to crack down on those using the app to bully or offend by constantly improving filters and “geofences” according to its website. 

Yik Yak lead community developer Cam Mullen told the Daily Illini last semester that the app’s purpose is to “produce an open forum and give a voice to those people that might not otherwise have one.”  

Smaller, simpler social media forums such as Yik Yak allow us to express ourselves, joke around and even encourage one another. The anonymity of Yik Yak can allow users to express themselves in ways that might not feel comfortable in other circumstances.

Similarly, apps like Snapchat can help University members come together and even help create a presence that might not otherwise be there. Take the popular “illiniway” Snapchat account for example.

While the account is not verified with the University, it provides accounts of campus life from students who choose to contribute. Social networking sites and apps can help paint a picture of what the Illinois experience is and provide a virtual scrapbook for happenings at the University. 

Over 75 percent of college students use Snapchat daily, making it a relevant and effective medium for translating messages to those of us at the University. 

While Snapchat and Yik Yak work on a smaller scale to define campus life and express thoughts, bigger and broader social networking sites associated with the University can be beneficial, as well.

For example, the UIUC Reddit thread is a great resource to easily find answers to questions about our university. A couple of clicks through the subreddit and you will see questions posted by current students, prospective students, alumni and staff members. 

In this subreddit, Redditors ask questions and discuss various aspects of campus life including travel, class work and restaurants. UIUC Reddit threads can also help people to learn about the University on their own desired platforms instead of seeking out official University websites. This might help attract prospective students or allow active student Redditors to maintain their identity as Illinois students online.

We’re fortunate to have a campus where students are engaged with social media. While some schools have a very small online presence or none at all on Reddit, the UIUC subreddit stays consistent with new posts and already has over 500,000 page views this month alone. Social media gives us forums to engage with those from different areas or associations with the campus. 

I could continue to provide further examples by detailing various Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and websites created by students that can help us all have better college experiences. However, my point is this: As universities begin to look into banning different apps and social networking sites, they discourage all of these benefits and forms of community.

With so many people online, we need social networks to provide outreach and connectivity throughout the University.

Say what you will about social media usage in general, but having a university presence on them certainly can help many students. Banning apps is the wrong approach to fixing online issues since many companies are already addressing these problems with filters, increased moderation and guidelines. If we can continue to harness their power for good, we reap the many benefits from having an online student body.

Camron is a junior in LAS

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