Dangerous social media apps are often in the news these days. It’s easy to understand why. There are pedophiles, stalkers, sex traffickers, and lord knows who else potentially lurking around every corner. Parents know this, but our kids are either unaware or willing to overlook the possibility. Many apps have age verification features, but age limits are not always enforced, can’t be enforced or kids just know how to get around them.
“It is so darn easy for kids to lie about age online,” digital literacy expert Diana Graber tells Parentology. Graber is the founder of CyberWise and author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology. “Most don’t think twice about it, even though nearly every app requires kids to be at least 13.”
And forget about your parental control software. Graber says kids who really want to use an app are going to find a way to use it, parental controls be damned. Kids will either bypass the software, sign up on a friend’s phone, or even use a burner phone to gain access to their social networking app of choice.
We’ll assume you’re already familiar with the dangers kids face on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Let’s talk about a few other apps that should be cause for concern when it comes to your children’s safety.
Omegle is a free online chat service created in 2009. Its popularity has spiked over the past months, most likely due to more people being home and looking to meet others during the coronavirus pandemic. The issue is there is no age-verification, and the premie of the site is to meet strangers. Likewise, kids are only a couple of clicks away from explicit video chats, and there are no parental controls on the site. The site itself even says, “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.” If that’s the case, make sure it’s blocked on your child’s browser.
Kids use TikTok to create and share short videos (kind of like what Vine used to be). The minimum age to use TikTok is 13, but there’s no age verification to speak of, so it doesn’t really matter. Absolutely anyone of any age can download the app. And because all accounts are automatically set to public, there’s nothing to stop a creepazoid from contacting your child.
Kik is essentially a texting app. It’s instant messaging with profile pictures, sketches, photos, and features like pre-designed greeting cards. According to familyeducation.com, Kik is available to ages 17+, but just like TikTok there’s zero age verification and anyone can use it. If you read reviews of Kik in the Apple Store or Google Play Store, you’ll find people saying it’s often used by shady characters to meet strangers for sexting.
Ok, you’ve heard of Tinder already, but it’s worth driving home how dangerous this app can be for children. You can be as young as 13 to sign up. And even though the makers of Tinder say it’s just a fun way to connect with people, it’s often considered an app used by people looking for a one night stand. And Tinder helps people find “dates” within their geographic location. Any sleazeball on Tinder can make contact with your kids and find out where they’re located. Another dangerous app option in the vein of Tinder kids are turning to is Yubo. Here’s Parentology’s recent article about that platform.
Whisper is supposedly an anonymous social media app that encourages users to share secrets and confessions. Gee, wonder where this could go? Although Whisper’s developers have said they don’t collect private information about their users, they’ve also said they keep a broad surveillance system on users, even those who have disabled the app’s geolocation feature. And although the app is rated 17+, much younger children can easily use it. A 21-year-old Washington man was charged with using Whisper to lure and rape a 12-year-old girl.
What Parents Can Do
What are parents to do? “Really the only solution is to educate kids on the pros and cons of using different apps,” said Graber. And part of that education is making sure your kids know that absolutely nothing they do on social media is truly private. “Even apps that claim everything ‘disappears’ — like Snapchat — are keeping everything.”