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Journalism Center Experiments With Delivering Campus News on Yik Yak

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 4.41.56 PMYik Yak, the anonymous social-media app, is perhaps best known for spreading rumors and bullying on many campuses. But journalism students at the University of Florida are experimenting with using the platform to deliver news updates, in what the project’s leaders say could become a model for other colleges.

Over the past few months, students at the university’s Innovation News Center have been developing and adding content to a news feed, called “Swamp Juice,” for people on or near the campus who have the app. Through the feed, users can learn about campus and local news, local deals or business promotions, and national and international developments.

Matt Sheehan, director of the innovation center, and Whitney Lavaux, a graduate student involved in project, said that other universities should use the app to broadcast useful information to people on their campuses. “Yik Yak’s the new town square,” said Mr. Sheehan. “Media organizations and governing organizations, like a university would be, should be part of the conversations that are going on there.”

Ms. Lavaux added that she thinks other universities will — and should — follow suit because students are now consuming news and information on social media more than ever before. “If you want to reach this kind of audience, you can’t keep doing the same kind of thing that you’ve been doing — you have to go where they are,” Ms. Lavaux said. “They’re not going to follow you. Usually, you have to follow them.”

The student journalists involved in the project write each of the posts — about 10 to 20 a day — in a casual tone similar to regular Yik Yak posts. And while Yik Yak’s normal feed gives users a live view of anonymous posts uploaded within a certain geographic area, the section curated by the journalism students at Florida is separate from that feed and distinguished by a brief note explaining its purpose.

When asked whether he had ethical concerns about working on a platform known for bullying behavior by some of its anonymous users, Mr. Sheehan said that in most cases the community on Yik Yak is supportive in ways users might not find on other forms of social media.

“In terms of the controversy, I think sometimes that platform may have gotten a bad rap,” he said. “There are definitely opportunities for those sorts of controversial messages to come out, but in my observations of the [University of Florida] community in particular, it’s a remarkably self-policing community.”

Yik Yak doesn’t have similar partnerships with other universities, but Hilary McQuaide, a spokeswoman for the company, said that Yik Yak might pursue comparable partnerships in the future.

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