Note: This is a revised version of an article I posted on All In Mountain Brook a few weeks ago. Originally called “7 Bad Apps,” I’m dropping the number 7 so I can add entries on new bad apps as I become aware of them.
by Dale Wisely
We have three daughters, all adults, two married, one now a parent herself. Due to the timing of their births, Mrs. Wisely and I missed some of the more difficult decisions about cell phones. Our first daughter did not get a cell phone until college; our second not until she started driving; and our youngest was, we think, 14 when she got her first phone. As children and teenagers, our daughters had neither the benefits nor the risk of tablets and smartphones.
If we were raising children now, I am sure we would struggle with the timing of introducing various devices, particularly cell phones. We would struggle, as parents do, about how much to get up on our kids’ business, when it comes to technology. There’s nothing easy about it.
But, as of 2015, I can report that there are certain social networking apps for smartphones we would not allow our children to have on their phones. Period.
I will list examples of bad apps. Let me give credit to this website: https://safesmartsocial.com. This site has a list of good apps and bad apps. I’m reluctant to declare any social media apps as safe or “good,” because all have the potential for abuse. 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.
There are probably other bad apps. There are apps that aren’t on this list which people can use in a variety of unwise and abusive ways. Anyone with a smartphone can use the camera to transmit inappropriate photos, the messaging features to spread ugly rumors. But, this list is an example of apps that seem to be particularly associated with trouble. (That’s my criterion for including an app here: Evidence that it’s overwhelming being used for evil purposes.) If you have other candidates for Bad Apps, email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After School. 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. As of this writing, it is not available on the app store. I will not to be surprised if it doesn’t resurface with a new name and design at some point.
Ask-fm. 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.
Burnbook. 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 Messenger. 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.
Omegle. 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?
Secret and Whisper are two anonymous messaging apps. 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. UPDATE: 4/30/2015: The company behind the Secret app folded and issued refunds.
YikYak. 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.
Don’t get bogged down in the details. An argument can be made that the problem here is not the technology and not the apps. Here are two major points. First, when it comes to social networking, anonymous more or less equals bad. Second, but more importantly, we cannot just 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.
Let me add that as a potential 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.