Karma Points and Self-Validation – Omar Shawareb

We’re all familiar with the likes of reddit and Yik Yak; the two are similar in that they both serve as social forums in which posts can be made and ideas shared. In order to maintain its status as the “front page of the internet,” reddit uses a system called “karma” as the chief mechanism to link users to content. If one redditor likes a post that another has made, he or she will give that user an upvote, boosting the other’s karma ranking on the website. On the other hand, if the user posts what others consider bad content, he or she receives downvotes that will eventually remove the post from view.

On the surface, this seems like a fantastic system to maintain site content and keep what’s in vogue in full view of new visitors to the site. However, after seeing all sorts of great posts, users often feel inspired to make posts of their own that can rake in all of that sweet, sweet karma. One of the bizarre side effects of this is the commonly observed phenomenon of redditors finding themselves quantifying their self-worth through the amount of karma they receive–irredeemable, imaginary internet points awarded by strangers they will most likely never meet. Because of this, it becomes comparatively rare to find content that provides a different perspective on a discussion or an article that provides some new information someone interested in the subject could have missed. Long-term users will recount the transition the site has undergone, with high-volume subreddits instead featuring countless cat pictures, memes that barely qualify as such, and reposts that bore users to death. Our communities of free-sharing information have led us astray from originality and towards uniformity.

This same thing can occur in smaller, more local communities–even in Williamstown, with Yik Yak serving as a prime example. Last semester, Yik Yak was considered a popular anonymous forum to address issues within the Williams community. Although it had its fair share of vulgar and essentially meaningless content, it was also a critically important platform for discussing the Chance the Rapper controversy, on-campus hate crimes, and the Bloomberg commencement speech. These topics produced fruitful conversation that challenged our preconceived notions, jumping into the problem at hand, whatever it was. But it now appears that Yik Yak is falling, fated to the same destiny as reddit. It’s become a game of points, where the dominant strategy is posting about mundane topics that are universal but rarely interesting (including but certainly not limited to squirrels, lack of sleep, and the occasional lonely cuddling post). The first post is often amusing, but the thirty-first identical message about squirrels or skunks can be a little disenchanting for those looking for blossoms of creativity around Williams.

However, that’s not to say that Yik Yak is an indication of a purely negative system. Although originality is lacking, our “hive-mind” shows the very positive aspects of the Williams campus. Compared to the Yak at other colleges, ours is very tame and self-regulating, demonstrating the maturity of the Williams community. Not a day goes by of reporting personal attacks on individuals and downvoting negativity on the app. One especially heartwarming thing about our community is our support for individuals who request help on the app. We all lose our way at college sometimes, and it’s uplifting to see posts that convey genuine care for others without names or faces.

I understand that Yakarma is a big motivator to post things on Yik Yak, but let’s not waste away reposting things for the self-validating quality of what is, at the end of the day, a meaningless score. Instead, we ought to revive the former trend of funny, thoughtful, and respectful posts, while working to continue to demonstrate the good standing and ethics of Williams students.


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