Students must be free to YikYak on campus

At this year’s National Union of Students (NUS) conference, out-of-touch student representatives voted to ban YikYak, the social-media app for anonymous messaging.

Students up and down the country laughed – how could the ban be enforced? Were the NUS going to check students’ phones upon arrival at fresher’s week? Once again, the NUS was trying to control what students could, and could not, do in their own free time.

But soon the ban didn’t seem so funny. I’m a student at the University of Aberystwyth, and here, we’re no longer laughing. Our own university has followed in the NUS’s footsteps and attempted to ban students from using YikYak.

I have been a free-speech campaigner for almost a year, and during this time I have witnessed students’ unions banning newspapers, fancy-dress themed socials, and much more. While university administrations are not as ban-happy as students’ unions, universities are also guilty of trying to protect students by censoring life on campus.

YikYak is an easy target for the perpetually offended. It allows users to post ‘Yaks’ about anything, or anyone, anonymously. This is part of the fun: users can put up jokes and pictures, even in lectures, and no one has a clue who did it.

Yet YikYak is no different to someone using a fake account on Twitter or Facebook. Are we going to ban these on the university network, too? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. If the campus censors were at least consistent in their views about YikYak, they would ban all forms of social media to protect students. Indeed, most nasty behaviour doesn’t happen on YikYak; it happens on Twitter and Facebook.

University should be about preparing students for the real world, not shielding them from it. And social media is a massive part of modern adult life. The good news is that students have started fighting back against the bans. At Aberystwyth, students voted in an emergency motion to ask the students’ union to pressure the university to end the ban on YikYak. The following day, the ban was lifted. Students proved that they do not need protecting from social media, and that censorship is never the answer to tackling bad behaviour.

Students have to ask themselves: if their universities can shut down YikYak on a whim, what will they censor next? Students at every university should stand up to the NUS, and to mollycoddling universities and students’ unions, and prove that they don’t need protecting or patronising. The only thing students need from university is an educational space, not a Safe Space.

Ieuan Joy is a writer and student.

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