200 characters are enough to hurt

Yik Yak posts can’t go over 200 characters. The ones responsible for the tears and outrage at Staples were far shorter than that, often less than fifteen words.

 It turns out that sexism, homophobia, and cruelty don’t require many letters.

 In fact, the brevity just added to the shock value. And shock value was clearly the goal of most of these posts.

 Why else would someone anonymously write an explicit, personal insult on what is essentially a virtual billboard?

 It’s like three-year-olds yelling profanities: crossing the line to get people’s attention.

 Given people were writing to shock, it’s not surprising that most of the posts were sexual. Flagrantly explicit statements about who had sex and where are definitely going to get noticed by teenagers.

 Even when the posts were about rumors students were already whispering in hallways, it was a jolt to see them in neat black type for anyone with iOS 7 to see—including teachers.

 Adding to shock value was the specificity of some posts. Many malicious claims and cruel insults named certain students. It’s one thing to make a generally sexist joke; it’s another to make a sexually violent comment about a specific girl.

The over-the-top scandal and profanity is probably what grabbed people’s attention—even as most students expressed disgust, they read on, unable to look away from the train wreck of cruelty.

 The one positive takeaway from all of this is the reaction from many at Staples. Posts on Facebook and Yik Yak itself have condemned the malicious posts, and some students have come together to support those victimized.

 Hopefully that proves our generation is not a lost cause. For now, the lingering ugliness from what some have called the “Day of Yak” reminds us how risky instant access to social media really is.