Contributed by Holli Scharinger, HCES Technology Coordinator
Just when you’ve gotten the hang of Facebook, your kids have moved on to the latest and greatest social media app(s). Keeping up with your kids on social media can be a lot like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant. It’s all just too much too fast! New social media apps emerge all the time, and with these apps come new bells and whistles. How can you possibly keep up with it all? Well, the good news is, knowing what to look for in one app will help you know what to look for in other apps. This will help you better guide your kids in their social media use and avoid some of the most common dangers.
What exactly should I look for in a social media app? I’m so glad you asked. Here are some things to look for with social media apps:
Some examples of apps with age-inappropriate content include: Ask.fm, Tumblr, Vine
- Does the app have public or private profile setting by default? Most apps will allow their users to decide whether or not to make their profile public or private. However, many apps make the user’s profile public by default. This means other users of the app can access the names, posts, and pictures of anyone with a public profile. Check the setting within in the app to see if your child’s profile is public or private. Be sure to change profile settings that do not reflect what you are willing to have shared. If this particular social media platform has a web-based version that your child uses, then make sure to check the profile settings there, too.
Some examples of apps with public default settings include: Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine, Ask.fm
- Is the app tracking location and sharing it with others? Be sure to check the app’s setting to determine if your child’s location is being tracked. If so, then be advised that it is sharing the location of your child in any post he or she makes. The exact location of your child can be traced within a city block. Locations settings can be turned off in the app’s settings and can also be turned off in the settings of your child’s device(s). After disabling location, if posts made by your child prior to still show location, you can simply delete the old posts that display your child’s whereabouts.
Some examples of apps with location tracking and sharing include: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Messenger
- Does the app allow live video streaming? Children can often do and share things hiding behind a screen in private that they would never do in front of a live audience. Sometimes the content of the live videos can be intended to embarrass or humiliate. The one thing that kids may not think about when streaming a live video on social media, whether it’s from the privacy of their own bedroom or not, is that they do have a very real and live audience. Kids may be oblivious as to the makeup of their viewing audience and maybe sharing too much information to complete strangers. Worse than that, the live video stream may be captured and shared by others. Now it’s gone viral! Kid generated videos are not always made with ill intent and can actually channel their inner creativity. Talk to your child about the positive and negative uses of video sharing. If you want to foster their creative side, then encourage your child to share videos recorded and edited with software programs rather than going live.
Some examples of apps with live video streaming include: Periscope, Facebook, YouNow, and Meerka
- Does the app feature “disappearing” videos and/or pictures? When social media platforms tout that videos or pictures disappear after a specified amount of time, kids get a false sense of security. This is extremely misleading and dangerous for our children who may think that a compromising video or picture will go away and never be seen again. Digital footprints NEVER go away! Discuss with your child the fact that “temporary” pictures or videos are permanent. Others can screenshot and share what they’ve posted and can even be recovered by forensic experts.
Some examples of apps with disappearing videos and/or pictures include: Snapchat, Burn Note, Yik Yak, Line, Meerkat, Periscope, YouNow
Some examples of apps with ineffective reporting tools: Snapchat, Yik Yak, Omegle
- Does the app allow people to comment on posts and remain anonymous? Allowing people to remain anonymous when commenting on other’s posts can be a breeding ground for cruelty. Kids these days use social media outlets to seek attention, approval, and feedback from others. However, they may not always get the encouraging, positive, supportive comments they are hoping for. Social media apps allowing anonymous comments makes its poster’s an easy target for cyberbullying. Speak with your child about the uncertainty of posting on these types of sites and how it can open doors for people to make some very cruel and hurtful comments. Make certain your child knows how to block/unfollow and report other users if needed.
Some examples of apps with anonymous commenting: Yik Yak, Omegle, Whisper, Ask.fm
Finding some of the above things in the apps your child is asking to use does not necessarily mean you should ban the app from being used in your home. Remember, you can enable/disable certain settings that will make the app safer for your child to use. Instead of forbidding the use of a particular app, use it as an opportunity to teach your child about safety, responsible and respectful behavior, and appropriate ways to use social media. Be watchful and monitor your kids along the way!