For teachers, and parents, it can sometimes seem like you’re fighting a losing battle against the tide of social media apps that kids are using these days. This post will take a look at a few common apps, and look at the e-safety issues that arise.
Snapchat is a social network where users send ‘Snaps’ – short videos or photos to Snapchat friends. Users can also send text messages or ‘Chats’. Snaps and Chat have a lifespan of between 1 and 10 seconds, after which they’ll disappear, although there are ways to capture them that makes this less secure. Some children are sending each other inappropriate images (sexting) in the belief that the images will vanish, and finding out later that copies have been made. Yes, Snapchat may notify you if a user has taken a screenshot of your image – but what if they photograph their phone screen with another device?.
Snapchat also contains geolocation which allows users to pinpoint where a user is with some accuracy. Obviously this has stalking implications. Turn this off straight away!
There are many online guides, such as this one from BT, on using Snapchat safely. For example restrict the users that can contact your child, turn off location services and use the block feature often.
2. Tik Tok
This was previously known as Musical.ly and is one of the most popular apps amongst children. Musical.ly was shut down in August 2018 and all users migrated across to Tik Tok. Users can create video clips of themselves dancing and lip synching along to music tracks. They can then share these with other users. Sometimes there could be mature language and sexual content in the songs that are popular on the app, with no way to filter the content. The creators of the app have come under fire for the lack of privacy settings.
There are only two privacy settings on the app: Private where only the creator can watch their videos and Public where anyone on the app can see their video. By default, all accounts are public unless the privacy settings are changed.
The app contains messaging features which allows strangers to contact other users directly. This also runs the risk of cyberbullying. For more on Tik Tok, visit this Parent’s Guide to Tik Tok on Common Sense Media.
3. Kik Messenger
Kik is a free texting app available on phones and tablets. Users can send messages, photographs, funny pictures and more. The app is rated 17+ but there’s no age verification. Users can connect with anyone who uses the service. They can send messages to anyone who’s username they know – but it’s not hard to guess someone’s username if they use it on other social networks. The app has been linked to cyberbullying as well as sexting. Kik includes its own web browser which can give children easy access to inappropriate content.
This app allows users to ask each other questions. The website lets anyone see the names, photographs and personal details of children as young as 13, then post comments or questions on their profile pages. As well as fun comments, they can also include insults, sexual advances and threats of violence. Because there is no way to filter or report offensive comments the app has been linked with several high-profile cyberbullying cases, some of which have even led to suicides.
YouNow is a live video-streaming and chat app. Whilst YouNow forbids nudity, sexual content, and bullying in its community guidelines, there’s no promise of oversight and inappropriate content can slip through. Users can report violators as well as block specific viewers, but live streaming is totally unpredictable — there’s almost no way to ensure users won’t encounter objectionable live content.The app is rated 13 and older.
This is a voice chat app that uses push to talk (PTT) in the same was as a walkie-talkie. It allows users to exchange short voice messages. Just tap a button to hear the messages. It’s becoming popular amongst teenagers. There’s obviously a risk of cyberbullying, and hateful messages can be even worse when they’re spoken, rather than just typed. The app is rated 4+ in the app store, which is concerning!
Whisper is an anonymous social networking app. Users post confessions, either fact or fiction, by superimposing text onto a picture. Whisper’s unique selling point is that it is completely anonymous, with users issued a random nickname upon joining. The primary way of communicating with someone on Whisper is by responding to their Whispers. This can be done by sending your own Whisper or through the chat function. It is much more difficult to maintain anonymity through the chat / private messaging features and this can lead to some nasty cases of assault and bullying.
ooVoo is a free app that allows users to make group video chats with up to 12 people across multiple types of device. They can also send text messages and make phone calls. A users profile is easily searchable unless they change their account setting to restrict public access. The potential for cyberbullying and harassment is high, but users can block people they don’t want communicating with them. There is a report feature for harassment.
This is a photo-sharing and micro-blogging website. Users can post images, video and short chunks of text. Many users user Tumblr in place of a blog, and link it up to collate photographs that they also share to sites such as Instagram. Although the app is rated 17+ there’s lots of younger users. There’s not much filtering, and users can find pornographic and inappropriate content very easily.
This is a photo-sharing site that’s now owned by Facebook. Photos can be geotagged, and it’s possible to search an area for photos taken nearby so there is a chance of stalking and inappropriate use. Would suggest that teenagers turn geolocation off. The app is rated 13+ but younger users can get on it. There’s still a chance of inappropriate images ending up on the site, so do use with caution.
Instagram is often cited as leading to problems with body-image or depression. Users see everyone else having a perfect life, while theirs is a mess. It’s important to remind children that much of what you see on Instagram is carefully stage-managed, and you only see what the instagrammer wants you to see.
Here are some general tips, whatever the app.
- Turn off geolocation in every app.
- Make good use of the block and report feature
- Make sure kids have a passcode on their phone, and that you must be told it.
- Use a strong password.
- Use a different password for each of your social media accounts.
- Be selective with friend requests. If you don’t know the person, don’t accept their request. It could be a fake account.
- Click links with caution. Social media accounts can be regularly hacked. Look out for language or content that does not sound like something your friend would post. If in doubt, don’t click!
- Be careful about what you share. Don’t reveal sensitive personal information.
- Always be on the apps your students use. No monitoring app is better than having a regular digital safety conversation with your children
- If you are worried in any way about online abuse, report it to CEOP or talk to Childline.
And that’s it. It’s very hard to provide a comprehensive list, since new apps are popping up all the time, and children can quickly drop one app in favour of the next big thing. Remember, if you are worried in any way about online abuse, report it to CEOP or talk to Childline.
Do you have any other advice about apps you’d like to share? Please add them in the comments.