Written by Rebekah Edwards.
As the use of technology and social media continues to expand, the intensity of the debate over its capacity to alienate one from engaging in personal interaction has grown with it. Naturally, colleges and universities are social media hubs since they contain a high concentration of teens and twenty-somethings, the primary users of social media sites and apps. From the campus-wide Snapchat story with its location-specific geofilters (of which the College of Liberal Arts is sadly lacking) to the anonymous hilarity of Yik Yak, UT Austin is no exception.
Social media’s greatest success at UT is its ability to craft a community based on the collective student experience.
UT does not have just a social media presence but rather a social media culture that organizes and governs a significant portion of student life in and around the campus. Whether by highlighting fried Oreos in front of Gregory Gym, the latest sporting event, or a sighting of the elusive albino squirrel, social media platforms are the most effective way to disseminate information throughout the University. Instead of discouraging interaction, it enhances it in a way that was not possible for earlier generations, making an enormous student body feel interconnected and even intimate.
Social media’s greatest success at UT is its ability to craft a community based on the collective student experience. The informality of apps like Snapchat and Yik Yak, due to their temporariness and relative anonymity, allows students to post content that genuinely reflects their feelings at a given point in time across campus. Both apps lack the pressure of the social and behavioral expectations that accompany face-to-face conversations, facilitating a candor that is absent in more high-stakes situations.
In a piece for Psychology Today, psychologist Liraz Margalit observes that “these platforms help people project any image they want; they can be whoever and whatever they want to be.” That image might even reflect an unadulterated version of who they really are, unencumbered by demands to look or act in a specific way. Current freshman Priyanka Mara echoes this, saying that “unlike Instagram and Facebook where you choose a filter or a nice picture with a caption,” Snapchat and Yik-Yak feel “more raw” and “authentic.” For her, the UT Snapchat story is “literally like a little snapshot of what is in someone’s life right then.”
Yik Yak and Snapchat transform UT from a dauntingly large, academic institution into a far warmer, familiar community of individuals united by common experiences.
While these “snapshots” do vary from time to time, most involve complaining about the weather or the residual effects of all-nighters. Yaks also demonstrate consistency, reliably rotating between sexual frustration and death by schoolwork. Most people find these categories relatable at some point while at UT. In Mara’s words, “Yik Yak is where people say what everyone is thinking.” There is a sense of consolation knowing these experiences are not unique and that “everyone is on an equal playing field,” as the app’s founder Tyler Droll stated in a 2015 interview with The Huffington Post. As representations of a composite student voice, Yik Yak and Snapchat transform UT from a dauntingly large, academic institution into a far warmer, familiar community of individuals united by common experiences.
As students grow more comfortable sharing their honest opinions on social media, these platforms have the power to not only unify but to also facilitate rapid change across the campus. The monumental takedown of the Jefferson Davis statue last semester, the encouragement of voter turnout for the primary elections last month, and the ongoing debate about campus carry are just a few examples that have garnered significant social media attention this year. UT students now are able to discover allies in their interests and spark conversations about those interests. While this concept seems simple enough, the sheer size of the university can be overwhelming without the support of a smaller community. Snapchat and Yik Yak are helping to create those communities, allowing UT to become more dynamic, empathetic, and interconnected.