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Anonymous App Yik Yak On A Decline: What Went Wrong

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What Is Yik Yak?

If you were in college in 2014-2015, the students at your school were more than likely hooked on a little app called Yik Yak. The app connects members to a location based social network where they can chat with each other about various subjects, crack jokes, and interact freely, but anonymously. Created in 2013, Yik Yak was built on the premise that (ideally) if someone’s identity is masked, they’re more likely to freely engage in more transparent conversation. According to Yik Yak’s website:

“By letting you share news, ask questions, offer support, and interact freely with others who are in the same place at the same time, Yik Yak acts as a springboard for discovering, meeting, and connecting with people in your local community”.

The app’s creators, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, noticed that the only people getting the most Twitter views around the school were high profile students like athletes. They created Yik Yak as a way for the “common man” to have their voices heard without having to be super popular. Brooks Buffington stated that the app was made for the “disenfranchised”. Now everyone could feel like their opinions mattered.

Founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington (Image Credit: NY Times)

Yik Yak is specifically geared towards college students and uses geofencing to intentionally block out middle and high schools. In fact, you must submit the name of the college you attend in order to gain access to the Yik Yak members within that area. You cannot put in names of cities, restaurants, sporting locations, or tourist attractions. There are no user profiles in Yik Yak and does not have a concept of “friends” or “followers”. It’s more like a virtual bulletin board allowing students to post whatever they want. Because Yik Yak caters to college students, it became an ideal place for college students to vent frustrations with teachers, help each other with homework, or encourage others going through tough midterms or finals. At the height of its popularity, Yik Yak was the #2 most downloaded social media app and #3 most downloaded iOS app in the United States according to App Annie. In November 2014, Yik Yak secured about $62 million in capital from Sequoia Capital. Unfortunately, the anonymous aspect of Yik Yak became much more than venting and has led to a plummeting subscriber base and high level executive departures.

What Happened?

Due to users being anonymous, it allowed anyone to say what they wanted without fear of reprisal. The social network became a breeding ground for demeaning, insensitive speech, often including hate speech and sexually explicit images and language. Many students have complained of bullying and verbal abuse. An excellent 2015 article in the New York Times details many of these incidents. Per the article:

“Since the app was introduced a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a ‘yakker’ proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.”

In May 2015, an outspoken feminist at the University of Mary Washington was killed. Months before, she and others complained of sexual harassment on Yik Yak and alleged that the university did nothing to curb the toxic environment of the app.

yik yak alert

What Can Be Done?

Unfortunately, little can be done to correctly identify purveyors of abusive and hateful speech on the app specifically because of the anonymity. According to the app’s privacy policy, Yik Yak will not reveal users without a valid subpoena, court order, or search warrant that specifically states imminent harm. While some schools such as the College of Idaho have outright banned it, other schools have asked Yik Yak to place a geofence around the school to prevent students from using the app. Technically, Yik Yak can be banned from being used on the school’s Wi-Fi network, students can simply use their cellular provider. However, even with banning the app on the school’s Wi-Fi, many civil liberties advocates have spoken out against potential First Amendment violations…even if that speech is offensive. Regarding actual threats, Yik Yak does cooperate with local authorities in emergency cases. Per the NY Times article:

“In cases involving threats of mass violence, Yik Yak has cooperated with authorities. Most recently, in November, local police traced the source of a yak — ’I’m gonna [gun emoji] the school at 12:15 p.m. today’ — to a dorm room at Michigan State University. The author, Matthew Mullen, a freshman, was arrested within two hours and pleaded guilty to making a false report or terrorist threat. He was spared jail time but sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $800 to cover costs connected to the investigation”.

Back in March, Yik Yak tried to force users to add “handles” to their posts and although the handles don’t have to correspond to the users’ real name, caused a spike in one star reviews in the Apple App Store. Yik Yak removed the requirement in November and kept it as optional. Yik Yak’s philosophy in policing speech within the social network is actually more libertarian. The app’s creators believe in a more “democratic” approach to policing the network. Users are allowed to upvote or downvote a post. If a post receives 5 downvotes, it is automatically deleted. Yik Yak founder Tyler Droll said, “Really, what it comes down to is that we try to empower the communities as much as we can”. In addition, certain keywords are flagged automatically and prompt the user to confirm that they want to post the yak.

Yik Yak isn’t the only social network to come under fire for allowing offensive speech on their networks. Websites such as Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter have all been criticized for not policing hate speech effectively, particularly during a very contentious U.S. presidential election. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on social networks to strike a delicate balance between free speech and hateful speech. One could argue that although one person’s speech may be offensive, unless it’s inciting violence, it should be allowed. Although Yik Yak still has millions in the bank, time will tell if Yik Yak will regain its former glory.

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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy And The Race To Space

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People are looking to the stars again — even though they might just be looking for Elon Musk’s midnight-cherry Tesla Roadster that’s somewhere in orbit between Mars and the asteroid belt. The successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which sent that car on its potentially billion-year journey, has everyone scrambling to get their rocket program on the same level as SpaceX. What does the Falcon Heavy launch mean for the future of space travel and the possibility of a new space race?

The Falcon Heavy

On Feb. 6, Elon Musk and SpaceX celebrated the maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy. This miracle of engineering was launched successfully at 3:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, powered by a whopping 27 Merlin engines — nine inches each of the side booster rockets, and nine more in the center core.

The two booster rockets successfully separated and landed almost simultaneously at Landing Zones 1 and 2 back at Cape Canaveral in a mind-blowing feat of synchronization — if you haven’t had a chance to watch the replay of this landing, you should. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

The third core, which was supposed to land on the autonomous droneship Of Course I Still Love You about 300 miles off the Florida coastline, didn’t fare as well. According to the post-launch press conference, the core didn’t have enough fuel to reignite all three of its engines for its final landing burn. It hit the water at about 300 miles per hour — hard enough to take out two of the engines on the droneship.

If the cameras on Of Course I Still Love You weren’t damaged in the crash, we may be in for some spectacular crash footage in the coming weeks.

It’s not a great loss, though — Space X wasn’t planning to reuse any of the cores from the Heavy’s maiden launch. The two Falcon 9 boosters that landed successfully are Block 4 style rockets — the ones that will be used for future Heavy launches will be Block 5.

Despite the spectacular failure of the center core, the launch itself was a complete success — pretty good for something Elon Musk was expecting to explode before it even made it off the launchpad. As Musk put it, “Crazy things can come true. When I see a rocket lift off, I see a thousand things that could not work, and it’s amazing when they do.”

Now that it’s off the ground and proven its viability as a reusable heavy lift option, the Falcon Heavy is much cheaper than any other currently available options. “At $90 million per launch, it’s the cheapest heavy lift option available,” said William Ostrove, a space industry analyst. “The Delta IV Heavy, for example, typically costs $350 million to $400 million per launch.”

The Future of SpaceX

Now that his Roadster is traversing the solar system, what is next for Elon Musk and SpaceX?

In the short term, the next big milestone for SpaceX and for the Falcon Heavy specifically is to get certified by the U.S. Air Force to carry secure and government payloads. The Falcon 9 received this certification back in 2015 and has since carried several military and classified payloads into their places in orbit. The next flight for the Falcon Heavy is scheduled for June for the Air Force — and depending on its outcome, it could be the flight that qualifies the Heavy for military and government contracts.

Next year, in addition to continuing to develop the Falcon Heavy, there are two more projects on SpaceX’s plate — Crew Dragon and the BFR.

Crew Dragon is an upgraded incarnation of the currently used Dragon capsule, but instead of just hauling cargo to the International Space Station autonomously, Crew Dragon will be outfitted for carrying astronauts into orbit and beyond.

This will likely become an essential part of the space program, or at least in getting America’s astronauts to space, especially with the current administration’s plan to defund the International Space Station by 2025 and hand it over to private investors, shifting that funding toward the goal of putting humans back on the Moon.

The BFR — short for Big F*****g Rocket — is designed for use a lot closer to home, at least to start. Once completed, the BFR will be even larger than the gargantuan Falcon Heavy. A BFR with a capsule could potentially turn a 12-hour airline flight into a 30-minute hop around the globe. It could also change the way we look at travel to the Moon, Mars and other planets, as well as facilitating asteroid mining to allow us as a species to take advantage of the resources in the rest of the solar system.

Experts estimate the BFR, once it’s off the ground, could turn space into a multi-trillion-dollar industry — currently, space travel is worth about $300 billion.

The New Space Race

The U.S. hasn’t really been in a “space race” since the 1960s, when we threw everything at the wall to see what would stick. This grand idea resulted in the Apollo program, and we sent men to the Moon for the first time. During his Falcon Heavy post-launch news conference, Elon Musk set forth a challenge: “We want a new space race. Space races are exciting.”

They most certainly are — and Musk isn’t the only billionaire with his eyes turned toward the stars. Jeff Bezos, the mind behind Amazon, is also throwing his hat into the ring, as is Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, Tory Bruno of the United Launch Alliance and the Sierra Nevada Corp.

Bezos’ entry into the space race is his company Blue Origin — he’s launched and landed his New Shepherd rocket multiple times, even before SpaceX managed a successful landing, though all his flights were suborbital. Bezos was planning on his first space tourism launches in 2017, but that fell through. Musk and Bezos regularly launch friendly barbs at one another on Twitter, but when it comes down to it, they each support the other’s endeavors.

Virgin Galactic, headed by Richard Branson, has been trying to make it into orbit for a while now, and has even started selling $250,000 tickets. Unfortunately, Virgin Galactic has hit a few roadblocks, namely the explosion of the space plane during a test flight in 2014 that killed the copilot of the flight.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is the mind behind NASA’s Space Launch System and the Delta IV Heavy rockets. Bruno and Musk are butting heads on Twitter, but Musk isn’t worried. He’s actually said if ULA can launch a national security mission before 2023, he’ll eat his hat — with a side of mustard.

The Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) is one of the most exciting entrants in this space race. Their space plane, dubbed Dream Chaser, completed its first successful suborbital test flights in 2017 and recently landed a contract with NASA for an ISS resupply mission in 2020. Musk might have some stiff competition if SNC can manage to nail this launch.

SpaceX might be the first one out of the gate, but they’re not the only game in town anymore — and that’s exactly how Elon Musk wants it. “I think it’s going to encourage other companies and countries to say, ‘Hey, if SpaceX, which is a commercial company, and it can do this and nobody paid for the Falcon Heavy, it was paid with internal funds,’ then they could do it too. So I think it’s going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say, ‘We can do bigger and better,’ which is great,” Musk said at the post-launch press conference.

The Falcon Heavy launch was history in the making, and being able to witness this launch is an amazing feeling. You can expect SpaceX to continue to push forward in their quest to find new and innovative ways to explore the solar system, but they’re not the only company we need to watch anymore — they’re just the only ones with rockets in the air. Elon Musk may have provided the spark to start this new space race, but he’ll have to come up with some amazing innovations to stay on top!

And if this launch has taught us anything, it’s that we need to keep looking at the stars — and believe crazy things can happen.

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We need to talk to Marketing and PR Agencies about Amazon

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Owner’s Magazine is writing an article featuring the top Marketing and PR Agency’s perspectives on why Amazon should choose their city as it’s next HQ. We’re reaching out to all marketing and PR agencies in each of the 20 cities on Amazon’s list for a private interview. If you’re a marketing or PR agency, then we want to talk to you to get your perspective of your city. Your interview and responses will be featured in an article published featuring your city.

Here are requirements to qualify to be featured in article:

  1. Must be legally classified as a Marketing or PR Agency (cannot only be a service you offer)
  2. Company must either be headquartered in a prospective HQ2 city or have an active office there (No satellite offices)
  3. Company must be at least $1MM+ revenue anually

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0 – 100 With Peter Hwang CEO of Bite App Inc.

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0 – 100 With Peter Hwang CEO of Bite App Inc. Exclusive interviewed Peter Hwang, current CEO of Bite App Inc., a startup company based in Philadelphia that’s changing the way you discover your next meal.

“Bite is a mobile app that makes deciding what to eat easy by mitigating the time and energy required to evaluate a restaurant dish. It also provides a platform for users to share useful, concise reviews that help improve others’ dining experiences.”

 

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