Monday, June 15, 2015

URSP Student Christina Gabriele Researches What are the Potential Negative Threats of Yik Yak on George Mason University Students

Nothing is more intriguing than seeing something you have been studying, become more relevant. About midway through the semester Yik Yak actually visited Mason on its college tour. At the beginning of last fall, Yik Yak seemed like a small presence on Masons campus and now, mid spring, the bright blue tour bus was humming around Patriot Circle.

My project has turned into many things. After data collection and evaluation I realized that my research needed a lot of work. I collected no demographic data (in order to stick with the theme of complete anonymity) and it disallowed me from doing some of the comparisons based on age or sex that could've resulted in more complete results. However, I also realized some interesting information regarding Mason students.

Although the majority of participants reported never having felt intimidated or threatened while using the application (82%), 12 respondents reported having felt intimidated or threatened rarely (16%) and two indicated feeling intimidated or threatened sometimes (3%). This indicates that there is the potential for negative threats on GMU students. Ideally, everyone who answered my survey would have reported never feeling intimidated or threatened while using the application.

Out of all respondents, 75% of indicated that they use the application for entertainment purposes, 52% to see what other students are posting on campus and 21% because it is anonymous. T-test identified very significant results between opinion regarding the application and posts and use frequency. Frequent users viewed the application (t =4.067, df=81, p=.000) and posts more positively than infrequent users (t =2.379, df=81, p=.020).

One of the most interesting things I discovered was that none of the respondents indicated that profanity, underage drinking or mention of illicit drug use as motivation for down-voting. Out of all respondents, 46% indicated that they would down vote a Yak in order to disagree with a post they do not like. Only 13% said they would down vote a Yak because it involved cyber bullying and 7% said they would down vote a post because it was intimidating or threatening. All the other options listed for this survey question (including “Other”) were selected at least once by one of the 99 respondents, minus profanity, underage drinking or mention of illicit drug use.

This suggests that maybe college students consider profane language a part of their subculture norm and should be considered when evaluating the conclusions of previous research. Sixty one percent of participants reported seeing profanity on the application often or all of the time. Considering how much profanity occurs over online communication, removing it could heavily affect the rate at which flaming behavior occurs and is counted. If college students do not consider profanity or illicit behaviors as a means for disapproval, then future studies need to be modified to account for this difference.

My study was designed to provide the first statistical insight into the experiences of George Mason University students while using Yik Yak. Future research could also attempt to analyze posts on the application. Posts on Yik Yak have varying lifespans depending on how popular or unpopular they become. Analyzing the rate at which posts cycle through the feed for a given college or university could create a greater depth of information regarding what is actually occurring through the application, versus what users are interpreting is happening. For my research, I focused more heavily on the self-reported experiences of students while using the application. I wanted to know, in order to help gauge the threats of the application, what people thought about Yik Yak and their experiences on the application as they remember them.

I will be graduating this semester and thus, done with my research (for now). Having the opportunity to participate in Undergraduate research has been a really cool experience and something that has given me a sense of pride. From the first idea to the final product I have been able to watch my project grow into something that puts Yik Yak in the academic sphere. And I’m one of the first to do so.