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Snapchat account UCLAyak gains following amid legal concerns

By Erin Donnelly

Jan. 16, 2015 10:30 a.m.

“Do it for the yak.”

Hundreds of UCLA students adopted this slogan this week as a controversial Snapchat account went viral by showcasing the R-rated lives of Bruins behind closed doors.

Since it was created last week, UCLAyak gained some 8,000 followers and hundreds of submissions from students about their social life. The posts include basic snapshots of campus life, such as pictures from lectures or basketball games. But the majority is dominated by sexually explicit videos or videos of bong hits.

The account is named after Yik Yak, a popular app at universities where students share short anonymous posts about campus gossip or happenings.

A UCLA fifth-year psychobiology student said he created UCLAyak out of boredom as the app’s namesake and a suspicion that most of the shared stories were fake. The account’s owner, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said he created the Snapchat account for a more organic and visual way for people to share their party experiences.

He posted the account name on Yik Yak and by the next day, he said people started sending in naked photos and videos of themselves having sex. “Do it for the yak” is the account’s mantra that some viewers use to encourage their friends to perform party tricks or strip down to their birthday suits.

Anyone can submit pictures or videos to the account. The owner said he uses a program on his computer to download the submissions and post them on his account.

“I had no idea it would get this big,” the account’s creator said. He said he knew that the account’s popularity was growing when student athletes started sending in pictures and people tried to make impersonations of his account on Snapchat and Twitter.

As for the nudity, he said he saw it coming.

“It was just a matter of time. That’s what Snapchat is for,” he said.

It is against Snapchat’s community guidelines to use the app to share pornography, but he said he thinks it is a regulation that few users follow. Just in case, he created extra accounts to use if he is shut down. He posts primarily under the username “uclayakk.”

The legality of posting strangers’ nude photos and sex tapes can get a bit murky, said Chris Hoofnagle, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law who specializes in privacy laws.

Individuals have a right to post nude pictures of themselves, but sharing photos of other people is not always protected under the law, he said. If someone claims they did not give permission, they could potentially sue for damages, Hoofnagle said.

Many feel more comfortable and less inhibited on Snapchat because photos only exist on the app for 24 hours, the account’s owner said.

But it is impossible to ensure that the images are deleted or prevent them from being captured and spread to other forums, Hoofnagle said.

“As the poster, you have no idea who the audience is. People could be taking the pictures and selling them,” Hoofnagle said. “People think that they are posting just (for their peers), but really they could just be impressing old perverts.”

Recording someone or sharing sexually explicit photos without clear consent is also against the UCLA Student Conduct Code. University police have not received any complaints about the account, and it seems legal unless the explicit pictures and videos are of minors or people committing crimes, said UCPD spokesperson Nancy Greenstein.

The student who created the account said he is cautious about preserving people’s privacy. Once, he refused to post the video of someone recording their roommate having sex. He took down a post of someone smoking marijuana when the student asked him to.

“I’m not out to ruin anyone’s life,” he said.

Some students said they find UCLAyak funny and entertaining, while others expressed concern that it is a bad representation of the campus.

“It is disgusting,” said Crystal Ruiz, a second-year biochemistry student, with a laugh. “I saw it once, and once was enough.”

Ruiz heard about the account on Friday through Yik Yak but did not expect the pornography that cycles every few seconds on the account.

Second-year business economics student Adam Alquist Gefokovicz III said he thinks that the account is appropriate for college-aged people. He added that he is worried students are not thinking about the consequences of submitting graphic pictures that might come back to haunt them.

“Many are spending $55,000 a year to go to school here,” he said. “It would be a shame to jeopardize that (opportunity).”

The account’s owner said he posts submissions that make him laugh or almost anything with shock value. He drew the line, though, at a video of someone passing a bowel movement.

“Figured no one wants to see that,” he said.

He said he tries to keep the account focused on UCLA students, but the account is slowly gaining attention from around the world. He has received photos from people in Uruguay and Egypt, and followers from across the country participate.

Students at UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz created similar accounts modeled after UCLAyak, the account owner said. Fake Twitter accounts sprouted to post some of the account’s pictures.

The owner said there is a UCLAyak T-shirt in the works and he is open to advertising opportunities if he gets any offers. He said he plans to continue with the account as long as it doesn’t get boring. After this quarter, his last at UCLA, he said he might pass the account on to a friend or let it die out.

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Erin Donnelly
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