With many mobile devices being purchased as gifts for children this holiday season, the risk of cyber abuse and cyberbullying has never been greater. In fact, more than 72 percent of teens said they were cyberbullied in the past year, and 45 percent of children admitted that they have interacted with strangers online–scary statistics.
Collectively, the social media industry is laser-focused on constantly innovating and changing to keep up with the times and trends–the worst thing that can happen to a once-popular platform is to be considered old and antiquated. As social media application consumers, it is important to continue to be mindful of individual app upgrades, including the addition of various new security features. Unfortunately, many new emerging trends on social media apps focus on making communication more accessible, geographically placed and media-focused–all major privacy issues for our children.
This holiday season, kids everywhere will be opening new (or, in some cases, their first) mobile devices. Whether it’s a phone or tablet, these WiFi-enabled, tech-forward “toys” are sure to dominate the popular holiday gifts lists this year. To help you understand what your children might be downloading to their new devices, we have compiled a list of the most popular social media platforms and apps, and provided tips on what they are and what to look for as a potential threat.
With more than 400 million monthly active users, Instagram is both the fastest-growing social site and the most popular image-sharing app available. Millions of users take to Instagram daily to post pictures and videos to the masses.
To protect your children, make sure their location services are turned off and the photo map isn’t posting their location (learn how here). Make sure your children understand that they need to keep their profiles secure and private–don’t accept friend requests from strangers. Beware of hashtags–they take your private posts and make them searchable and, thus, accessible to the public (#stayprivate). Encourage a “spring cleaning,” where your children rid their profiles of unknown contacts, and advise your kids that the only way to get someone to “unfollow” them is to block them.
The most important things for users to understand about Snapchat is that the pictures and videos they snap do not actually disappear forever. Although your friends and followers can only view your material for a few seconds, every image and video is stored digitally on massive servers and, thus, is available to hackers.
What’s more, other apps like Snapsave and SnapGrab are available for download and enable recipients of “snaps” to save the material permanently within their personal devices. Be vigilant, parents.
Vine allows users to create and view six-second videos that run continuously on a loop. While this may seem harmless, Vine poses a dangerous threat–an ordinary search for a funny video on the platform can turn up sexual or violent footage, and any child with an imagination can search for inappropriate content. It’s also important to note that there are thousands of adult-entertainment stars that utilize the platform to gain followers using the hashtag #VineAfterDark.
Alternatively, Vine offers a platform specifically tailored to kids called “Vine Kids.” Urge your children to download this age-appropriate alternative, and rest assured that it only provides age-appropriate material.
Twitter is a social networking platform that allows users to post “tweets,” images and videos to a broad audience. It provides open access to friends, famous people and a lot of unsuitable and searchable content from adult-film stars. A quick search for a specific hashtag can return barely monitored results from millions of users across the world.
Help protect your children’s tweets to ensure that the public cannot see their posts. Talk to your children about controlling who follows them, who your children follow and what content they are going to be exposed to while scrolling through their News Feed.
Tumblr is a micro-blogging site where millions of users express their personal ideas and creativity. While it’s not as large as Facebook or Instagram, Tumblr has loads of independent posters. Tumblr is primarily an image-based social sharing platform, and the usual inappropriate-content issues can arise. Couple that with lenient posting guidelines, and a creative–or not so creative–search can lead to violent or sexual images and videos.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do here, aside from setting up a household device that controls your home modem’s “searchability.” You could also download an app like Tumblr Savior to your browser to place words or phrases you want to block on a “black list.” Your best defense here to simply talk to your children about the risks of improper searches and how every search and image is cataloged in their digital history.
While some people may think Facebook is losing popularity among children and young adults, most kids still have active profiles, and it is important for parents to pay attention to the multitude of privacy settings the platform offers
Parents can tweak privacy, Timeline, tagging and blocking settings to protect their children and control their “digital footprints.” Anything and everything you (or your children) posts on Facebook belongs to the Internet in perpetuity; even if you delete the content mere seconds after posting it, Facebook has ownership of it, and it can do what it wants with the content posted. Luckily, new reporting settings on the platform are helpful for alerting Facebook that users are abusing the site or uploading inappropriate posts and images.
Apple just named Periscope its App of the Year for 2015. Periscope lets you broadcast live video to everyone in the world. Going live will instantly notify your followers, who can then join and comment on the videos in real-time.
One of the greatest dangers here is how difficult it is to monitor live-streaming content. Think of it as Face-Timing with strangers; users can say whatever they want and do whatever they want on camera to anyone who has joined in to watch a broadcast. As you can imagine, this makes it very easy for users to stumble across users’ inappropriate content like drug use, X-rated videos and foul language. Be wary of what your children are watching, and ask them to walk you through who they might follow and what they themselves are posting about.
Yes, statistics can get scary, and this list is daunting, but we think it is important to remind everyone that technology in not all bad, and incredible creativity and social awareness can be found by searching and utilizing the web.
With that in mind, we would like to reiterate that the absolute, most important thing you can do to keep your children safe online is to have repeated and open dialog about good digital citizenship and the risks that come with online usage. Internet use is not a taboo birds-and-the-bees conversation; it’s a dinner table chit-chat or a weekly Sunday check-in. Know what your children are downloading, who they are talking to and what kind of content they are posting.
Most important, be sure to find a way to make the conversation a two-way street so that your children will remain open and able to come to you about scary cyber trolls, or to tell you if they are experiencing bullying. Technology is amazing–after all, you found this article cruising around the Net! Be cautious, be aware, but don’t be afraid to have fun with it. too!
Happy Holidays from our family to yours!
Steve Weatherford is a punter in the National Football League and founder of the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation, which manages his philanthropic initiatives. Todd Schobel is the president and CEO of STOPit, which offers a software platform to mitigate, deter and control inappropriate conduct and provide organizational transparency.
Image of child and tablet courtesy of Shutterstock.