by Dale Wisely
I maintain here a list of apps which I recommend parents not allow their children or teenagers to use.
I owe much for this list to Josh Ochs and his website https://safesmartsocial.com. This site has a list of OK apps and bad apps. I’m reluctant to declare any social media apps as safe or “OK” because all have potential for abuse. Even email. I’m more willing to say that some apps are just plain bad, in the sense that, for whatever reasons, they have been especially notorious for misuse by young people. A great resource for youth and for parents who want to more about these apps and about kids’ use of social media in general, I found a number of excellent videos about these apps on the aforementioned https://safesmartsocial.com.
Here are a couple of key points.
When it comes to social networking, anonymous equals bad. The more private and anonymous it is, the more room for trouble.
We cannot give our kids these sophisticated devices and then relinquish responsibility for what they do with them. Ultimately, no one can be more effective for supervising, monitoring, and guiding teenagers in this than their parents.
There are other bad apps. Since I’ve been trying to maintain a list, new apps have proliferated faster than I can keep up. At this writing, for example, “dating” sites meant for teenagers seem to be the rage. If you encounter a new app on your child’s phone you are curious about, do a Google search and have a conversation with your child about it.
At present, there are two apps that are in extremely wide use among youth, including in Mountain Brook. These are Instagram and Snapchat. Neither is on my list of Bad Apps. Click here for more about this.
B a d A p p s
Ogle is a new bad app, which I learned about via Josh Ochs at smartsafesocial.com. Never, or at least since Yik-Yak, have I seen any app get this much negative press and criticism in such a short time. It’s anonymous, specific to schools, and particularly suited to cyberbullying. The iTunes store rates it: “You must be 17 years old to download this app….Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity.” That may not be the worst of it. I downloaded the app and looked through it. Didn’t see any local activity. But, I was able to look at the feeds from several high schools. The most common type of post is “Thoughts on John Doe” in which, instead of John Doe, a specific student is named at a school. This is an invitation for others to comment on that student. It’s anonymous, easy to use to abuse and bully people and there’s no legitimate reason for it to exist. Delete and disallow!
Well, we have to bring “After School” back from the list of apps which appeared to have been dead. It’s back, as of November 2015 and there’s already a flurry of really bad reports from a variety of reputable news outlets.
This is an anonymous social app, designed for high school students. It may hold the distinction of being the most notorious app in this list. It has been pulled from the Apple app store more than once because of the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and exhortations to violence via the app. It’s back in late 2015 and causing quite an uproar. See this article in the Washington Post.
I just downloaded it at the office in Crestline. It asked me to select my school. There were a number of options from the Birmingham Metro area, including, “Mount Brook.” Once I did that, I got the image to the left and below, tiger-headed bikini girl or whatever that is. It declared the app “only for students” and asked me to confirm that I am a student via Facebook. I can’t do that, so I couldn’t go any further for now.
Tumblr is an extremely popular blogging platform and, as blogging platforms go, it’s functional and not inherently bad. Many of the blogs hosted there are fine. Some are highly inappropriate for youth and tumblr has a massive amount of pornography posted o blogs. There is nothing about tumblr’s usage agreements that prevent people from posting extremely explicit pictures and videos, and so they do.
This is a fully functioning calculator. Looks perfectly innocent. But the user can unlock it by entering a code and there finds that it’s a place to hide photos and videos.
This one rolled through Mountain Brook like a runaway truck on fire a couple of years ago, died out a bit, then picked up again early this academic year. It has probably been more nationally notorious than any of the others on this list. It is, yes, an anonymous messaging service based on GPS location. A user is able to see anything posted by other users within an approximate 5-mile radius from that user’s location. Given that students attending any school probably live fairly close to each other, this makes it a perfect vehicle for bullying and harassment, with no accountability. It has also been used as a vehicle to make violent threats, including threats against schools. In fairness to this app, after a start-up that included active efforts to encourage the use of the app by high school students, this company has taken steps to discourage it’s use by people under 17 and to filter bullying content. We submitted the GPS coordinates of Mountain Brook High School and Mountain Brook Junior High and the company created a “geofence” surrounding those campuses that disables to app.
YikYak-style anonymous apps.
A number of apps that are more or less similar to YikYak (see below) are popping up. Here are a few that we ought to not allow our kids to use:
“Anonymous local sharing”
“Anonymous chat-share worries …”
an encrypted text, video, picture, and voice messenger.
I actually have mixed feelings about posting this one. This app is popular among Mountain Brook youth and has been the vehicle of some significant misconduct. It is why it is on the list. In fairness to the people behind this app, there is nothing inherently wicked about the concept. I’m not completely confident that the bad outweighs the good. I AM confident I would not have allowed my children to have it. The idea is that a user can post a question for others to answer. Sounds innocent enough. But, because of the ability to post anonymously, we see questions such as “Who hates (insert name of peer here)?” Answers then can amount to social bullying and harassment. It is my opinion that no child or teenager should be permitted by a parent to use this app.
A new kid on the block, Burnbook has already gained notoriety. It’s another app that facilitates cyberbullying, lewd online conduct, and abusive behavior of various kinds by a anonymous posting and a lack of accountability. I downloaded the app myself on March 26, 2015 and found a Mountain Brook Junior High “community” on it, with lots of posts. Burnbook, ya burnt!
2 screenshots of the Burnbook app, captured March 26, 2015. The left shows there’s a Mtn Brook Junior High “Community” and the right shows a few recent posts.
KiK is an instant messaging app. We have been aware of it as a popular app among elementary students. It is notorious for bullying and for child exploitation. In a 2014 article in The Trentonian, a pedophile said KiK is well-known in pedophile circles. “I could go on it now,” he told the paper, “and probably within 20 minutes have videos, pictures, everything else in between off the app because I know they’re both still active. That’s where all the child porn is coming off of.” I just (on February 19, 2015) Googled this product and founded stories from just yesterday about the pedophile-KiK connection. Here’s a typical one from just a few weeks ago. Here’s one where a convicted sex offender called into a local TV station to warn parents about KiK.
If you Google the name of this app, you’ll find the promotional line “Talk to Strangers!” That pretty much covers it. (I’m including the app’s logo here in case you don’t believe me. Who would blame you for not?) Omegle is a free chat website that allows users to communicate with others without the need to register an account. This means anonymous use. Do you notice a pattern in these? Among other things, this site offers anonymous video chat. Sound like trouble?
is an anonymous messaging app. Again, anonymous. This lack of accountability emboldens people to say dreadful things and, of course, to read awful things said by others. Like many of these apps, use as a platform for cyberbullying is common.
is a related app that localizes the Whisper content.
Live video-streaming apps
YouNow, Meerkat, Periscope
Before we get to the apps that we think are among the most troublesome, here’s a note about live-streaming apps. The best known of these are Meerkat and Periscope. Periscope is owned by Twitter. YouNow is another example and has already gained a bad reputation as a tool for harassment and cyberbullying.
All of these apps have in common that they allow the user to take video with their cameras and transmit that video live, in real-time, to other users (worldwide) of the app. Much of the content is interesting and entertaining. For example, someone might be sending out a livestream as they attend a sporting event or are hiking into the Grand Canyon. Although there policies differ, there is nothing about this app that would prevent someone from livestreaming inappropriate or even illegal video, including adult content. (It might be against policy, but the policy cannot prevent it from happening. Because the apps aren’t designed for trouble, as it seems some of the following apps are, we would just issue a cautionary note for parents. These apps are not appropriate for minors.
Others to avoid
Here are some others to disallow. For each, I’ve supplied a link to explanatory videos at safesmartsocial.com