The professor notes that anonymity can sometimes be a good thing.

Susan Kruth of the FIRE blog reports.

Education Prof Writes in Defense of Yik Yak and Online Anonymity

The popular phone app Yik Yak, which allows users to anonymously share comments with nearby app users, has been attacked by college administrators and student governments alike who argue that it plays host to too much hateful or offensive commentary. In light of recent moves to block university network access to the app, Iowa State University professor Rey Junco writes for Wired today in defense of the application and of online anonymity.

Junco acknowledges that negative comments and even harassment do sometimes show up on the app, as students are often willing to say things online that social pressure would dissuade them from saying in person. But this phenomenon swings both ways: Students may also be emboldened by anonymity to defend targets of teasing or harassment, even if they would be hesitant to side with an unpopular student in front of their peers. Junco writes:

There was an incident at a particular Midwestern university where one or perhaps a couple of Yakkers were making fun of a “guy who wears a pink hat”—the community then came to the rescue supporting the “pink hat guy” and made him a bit of a campus celebrity. Of particular note was the fact that bystanders used their anonymity for good and in order to shape the conversation more positively. Indeed, recent research has shown that anonymous online bystanders are more likely to intervene when they witness bullying. Bullying will unfortunately always happen offline and online, however, being able to remain anonymous helps motivate people to aid victims of harassment. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for bystanders to remain anonymous in offline spaces; thereby making it less likely bystanders will intervene when they see someone being bullied.