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Why 2016 Could Be the Yik Yak Election

Jason O. Gilbert
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

On Monday morning, Ted Cruz spoke at Liberty University, urging the students in the audience to imagine his presidency. Little did Cruz know that the students in the audience were speaking back. 

They weren’t shouting at him from the crowd, of course; rather, the parallel discussion was taking place on Yik Yak, an anonymous, location-based discussion app that has become popular with college students. As Cruz spoke, Liberty students took to Yik Yak to lampoon the Texas senator –– all without disclosing their identities, of course. 

Cruz’s speech, if nothing else, proved the potential potency of Yik Yak as a political force in the upcoming election. 

Ted Cruz Has Skeptics at Liberty,” Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel noted, “And They Use Yik Yak.” Business Insider’s Maya Kosoff was more direct: “Students at Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign announcement trashed him on anonymous gossip app Yik Yak.”

A sampling of the malice:

(Yik Yak screenshot via BI)

The activity on Yik Yak during Cruz’s announcement is due partly, of course, to the fact that the event was held on a college campus; that attendance was compulsory; and that Yik Yak has become the public social media outlet for our nation’s scholars. 

But Yik Yak is also particularly well-suited for onsite snark and commentary –– so much so that it could very well become the breakout app of the 2016 election. The output at Liberty translated into a kind of authentic immediate reaction that you don’t get from more mediated social media networks. 

Twitter will doubtless remain the most heavily-trafficked social media platform for events; Yik Yak could become its more interesting, unfiltered evil twin. 

Yik Yak’s chief attributes make it attractive as a destination for a blend of mockery, commentary, on-the-ground reportage, and insta-reaction. Why?

1. It’s anonymous: What you say there can’t be tracked back to a public profile. Many political types have lately learned that your tweets can come back to haunt you. For all of Yik Yak’s woes and failures as a school forum, it is ideally suited for unfiltered discussion at an event. 

2. It’s local: A frequent complaint about Twitter is that certain events can take over your stream, flooding it with tweets you don’t care about. Chances are if you’re at a rally or a convention or a debate, you care about what other people there have to say. You’re within a scrum, and now you can talk back and broadcast to the scrum. If you’re a journalist looking for local reaction, Yik Yak should continue to be fruitful. 

3. It’s honest: This ties in with the anonymity aspect, but: In the context of politics, Yik Yak represents a far more honest (and, generally, mean-spirited) viewpoint. Political Twitter, for now, tends towards either the forced balance of journalists or the predictable vitriol of partisans. Yik Yak has the potential, like Twitter, to shape the stories that emerge from any given moment. It’s a blank slate that will fill with an emergent consensus 

Yik Yak won’t always be saturated with political commentary like it was at the Liberty event; it will certainly be more active at events on college campuses than it will be at, say, a town hall meeting at a local library. The app may have infiltrated college quads, but it hasn’t spread outwards to us (READ: the olds) in the way that Twitter and Facebook have. 

But it is still something to watch: Cruz’s announcement won’t be the last time that anonymous Yik Yakkers are polled for their reactions by political journalists. As the events get larger, so too will Yik Yak’s potential to mold local consensus, identify memes, and generally either elevate or denigrate candidates. And if politicos embraces Yik Yak in the way that the app’s young founders imagine, it could end up becoming the candid forum of choice for the 2016 election. 

As if presidential candidates didn’t have enough to worry about.