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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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Business

Sony Stocks Plummet After Microsoft-Activision Deal

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Sony shares fell by more than after a Microsoft-Activision deal was announced. 

There is no doubt that this deal weakens Sony’s position in the market.

“Whether or not Activison Blizzard’s content is progressively made exclusive to Xbox platforms and services, inclusion of new releases into Xbox Game Pass for several major games franchises, including Call of Duty, will undermine Sony’s third-party business.” 

Piers Harding-Rolls, games research director at Ampere Analysis, explains the situation. 

Sony has benefitted from the ability to negotiate timed exclusive content for Call of Duty but this is now under threat.” 

Shots fired in the never-ending console war. 

Did The Market Overreact?

Serkan Toto, CEO of Kantan Games, thinks so:

I think the market has totally overreacted in Japan today.

See?

Sony will continue to push out blockbusters, there can be no doubt about that.

Those PlayStation exclusives are pretty sweet. Spider-Man, The Last Of Us, Ghost of Tsushima? Come on now. 

Sony can, of course, fight back: they still have their own top in-house studios spread around the world, PlayStation remains a powerful brand in gaming, and acquisitions are in the cards for Sony as well.” 

PlayStation isn’t going down without a fight. 

The Console Wars Continue

For some time, Sony has been ahead of Microsoft. But the $68.7 billion Microsoft-Activision deal raises the stakes the highest they’ve been since the Black Friday Battle of 2013. Franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft could become exclusive. 

How will Sony respond? We shall see what happens next in the seemingly never-ending console wars.

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Silicon Valley Blue-Collar Workers Hope To Return To Their Posts

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While big tech companies are delaying return to offices, Silicon Valley Blue-Collar workers anticipate full return in the coming months. 

Despite the economic disruption experienced due to the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses tried their best to ensure business continuity. Big tech companies were the first to allow their white-collar employees to work from home when the pandemic hit. However, not everyone can work remotely, like in the case of service workers.

Madeleine Rivera, 33, is a contractual food service worker at Google’s campus. Rivera is holding on to the slightest signs that workers will return to the company in the future. Recently, she handed out free peach ice pops to Google employees who have returned to work already. She’s trying not to overthink about the rising COVID cases in the country. According to her, being optimistic and happy matters. 

As the Delta variant enters a new troubling phase, more tech companies like Lyft and Facebook delay re-opening their workplaces early next year. Because of this, the companies’ contracted cafeteria workers, cleaners, and shuttle drivers are becoming more anxious. 

Most Silicon Valley blue-collar workers are not sure whether the Delta variant will delay their returns even longer or, worse, risk their jobs entirely if in-office work becomes less significant than it was before. As many white-collar employees have settled into work from home, blue-collar workers are struggling even more because of the unpredictable situation. 

“My kids don’t want me to go back to work, but I said I have to do it,” said Liliana Morales, 37, a food service staff at Facebook. Morales recently returned to work after having been on paid vacation since the pandemic started. Everyone needs to go back to their everyday routines, and it has been months that she has been out of work, Morales said.

Image Credit: SIPA USA via AP

Country-wide Concerns

While some Silicon Valley blue-collar workers are in better condition, they still have the same concerns as many fellow workers across the country. UCLA Labor Center director, Kent Wong, co-authored a book about the late Mike Garcia, a janitorial labor organizer who led strikes at Oracle and Apple. Wong said that because Morales and Rivera are members of a labor union, they are likely to be doing better than their non-union member counterparts. 

Previously, on a website Amazon created this year to convince workers in Alabama to vote against unionization, the company announced that they provided them with excellent hourly rates, attractive healthcare benefits, and career advancement. There is so much more than the workers can do with their career and family without paying premiums, Amazon said. 

But Wong said all blue-collar workers face problems, whether or not they have union membership. The bottom line is, they are still very vulnerable. 

Image Credit: SIPA USA via AP

Looking Ahead

In interviews, Silicon Valley blue-collar workers said that big tech companies primarily supported them throughout the pandemic. Others said the companies tried to find them other jobs when their original work was gone. Take, for example, the experience of Rivera, a former kitchen staff across Google’s campus in Mountain View, California. She was temporarily assigned to work as a receptionist in almost empty office buildings.

Some companies like Google are already starting to upgrade their headquarters. It’s to return to a sense of normalcy in Santa Clara County, the geographic heart of Silicon Valley.

Facebook is starting to recall their contractors. On the other hand, drivers are being asked to do training and practice driving empty buses, said Stacy Murphy, the representative for Teamsters Local 853 – the union of some Silicon Valley bus and shuttle drivers. 

Morales said that whatever her company orders, they will abide by it. If they say return to work, they will return to work.

Murphy believed that it had been a mixed bag for Silicon Valley firms needing shuttle drivers. Facebook continues to let its drivers make practice trips. While, Netflix and Amazon have been back to 100% capacity since June 2021. Tesla even expanded their service during the pandemic. On the contrary, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Salesforce never returned. 

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Elon Musk To Launch A Humanoid Robot Prototype Called “Tesla Bot”

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Apparently, Tesla is not busy creating electric cars and self-driving cars with enough waitlists for new customers. Or, anyone might be wondering where the Cybertruck is? CEO Elon Musk has announced a new baby: Tesla Bot. 

Elon Musk Tesla robot will probably be unveiled this year. It would be a humanoid robot dubbed as “Tesla Bot,” designed to perform tedious, repetitious, and dangerous work, Musk said. 

The billionaire CEO of Tesla disclosed the robot would be about 5 feet 8 inches (1.7 meters) tall and weigh 125 pounds (56 kilograms). In addition, the robot would be able to handle tasks such as attaching bolts to cars using a spanner or picking groceries at the supermarket.

Elon Musk Tesla Robot First Appearance

Speaking at Tesla’s AI Day activity, the CEO said the robot could have “great implications for the economy” by addressing the gaps in the workforce due to labor shortages. He said the new machine need not be that expensive. The Elon Musk Tesla robot is described as an extension of the company’s work on self-driving cars. Similarly, the robot will use the same computer chip and navigation system with eight cameras. 

Companies into robotics, such as Boston Dynamics, have produced bipedal robots. But the bulky, heavy machines they have demonstrated bear little similarity to the slim designs of the Elon Musk Tesla robot.

The robot’s first appearance came after a 90-minute PowerPoint presentation about the artificial intelligence upgrades on Tesla’s electric vehicles. The presentation also includes the Dojo supercomputer, a device that helps train cars to navigate city streets without a driver. That’s when Musk said that it makes sense to have a humanoid robot.  

Three slides showed Elon Musk Tesla robot specifications, and Musk pointed out that it is possible to outrun the Tesla Bot or overpower it. He has been questioning the use of robots as weapons in the past and warned about the risks artificial intelligence may cause. He also called it the most significant risk society is facing today.

Fears About AI in the Future

During the question and answer session after the presentation, Musk reiterated that we should be worried about AI. He clarified that Tesla makes useful AI that people love and is explicitly good. One slide showed that Tesla Bot would eliminate dangerous, repetitive, and monotonous tasks. Musk provided an example, suggesting that the Tesla robot could “go to the store and get groceries”. It may not be dangerous, but people might find it repetitive and boring. However, Musk did not reveal the concrete progress of building a humanoid robot. 

Companies building robotics, such as former Google subsidiary Boston Dynamics, have produced bipedal robots. But the bulky and heavy machines they have demonstrated bear little resemblance to the slim designs of the Elon Musk Tesla robot.

Elon Musk is famous for his bold statements about the future, jamming a little on how he envisions his Tesla Bot transforming the future of work, too. He said that, in the future, physical work would still be a personal choice. He added that it is possible if you want to do it, but you won’t need to do it. For him, it is difficult to predict the future. However, this is a vast difference between discussing a few PowerPoint slides and delivering the actual and functioning humanoid robot. Musk assured the public that a prototype would likely be available this year. 

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