Some colleges have called for the banning of Yik Yak, is a hyperloca social media application in which users centered around a geographic area can post anonymously. They want to ban it because it can be used to do a lot of positive things, but also some negative ones, like posting threats and racial slurs. Or conspire in terrorist acts, logically.

Before academia should ban for all to protect a few, there needs to be a
broader, more systematic analysis of Yik Yak's postings rather than assuming the worst, write scholars in Computers in Human Behavior.

In a modern world where students need to be protected from language, why allow profanity?

In modern times, college students are being ridiculed for needing safe spaces and complaining about microaggressions. In one high-profile instance, a communications academic asked for a college journalism student to be physically assaulted rather than let him witness a protest. In that hyper-protective culture, a place where people could be expressive (even profanity and hate speech) might need to be squelched. But the actual data don't show it.

The researchers collected 4,001 posts over three days from 42 different campuses across the United States. Although users have to be on a particular college campus to access that college's Yik Yak stream, outsiders can view those posts passively, according to the app's guidelines.

The researchers found that 45 percent of the posts focused on campus life, announcements and proclamations. About 13 percent of the posts contained profanity or vulgarities, and about 9 percent related to dating, sex and sexuality. 

"There was definitely profanity and some aspects that would make anyone uncomfortable -- but those aspects weren't in any way worrisome since the profanity wasn't directed at anyone," said Lindsay Thompson, M.D., a physician in the department of pediatrics and co-author of the paper. "I think having a healthy skepticism is appropriate. But in this situation, among college students, fears and moves toward censorship would be unfounded."

The researchers defined "worrisome" postings as any yaks that could cause an individual to be revealed. Otherwise, Black and Thompson felt they could not label any particular posting as worrisome primarily because they lacked the understanding of the yak's context on that campus.

The authors looked for public disclosure of a first or last name, or combination of a first and last name, that could be tied to a particular campus. They saw only 11 names in the volume of data they collected, five of which included both a first and a last name.

"Our analysis was brief and focused on a specific point in time -- not enough time to make an accurate representation of postings on Yik Yak," said Erik Black, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the
University of Florida
College of Medicine's department of pediatrics and lead author of the paper. "But the most intriguing finding with this study is we didn't see what we expected to see."

That is, the researchers did not find postings, called yaks, that would warrant the site to be banned by college campuses. However, a more thorough investigation of Yik Yak's postings could build a broader understanding of the kind of discourse happening on the application, Black said.

"I think it's also important to understand that at the time we conducted our research, Yik Yak had not yet been used as a vehicle for making violent threats to campuses," Black said. "Since we collected our data, the nature of use may have changed in ways that are not recognized by our analysis."

"We're not condoning the type of rhetoric we see on the application. Profane, racist and misogynistic language is not OK," Black said. "Yik Yak may provide the opportunity to pull back the proverbial covers on underlying sentiment on campuses."