It's 10pm. Do you know what your children are up to? Hayley Krischer finds out what the latest apps are that kids are using to keep prying eyes away from their phones.
Anonymous apps have been developed for people interested in a faceless and nameless documentation of their lives (as opposed to a selfie), drawing in children who learned from earlier generations about the consequences of an offensive online footprint. (For example, Harvard University withdrew admission offers to 10 incoming freshmen in June because of obscene Facebook posts.)
There are a number of anonymous apps on the market — After School, Sarahah, SayAt.Me, Monkey and Ask.Fm are some of the most popular — all of them promising the same feature: Spill intimate feelings about yourself or, on the flip side, spread rumors and attack friends, without any trace of who said what.
SayAt.Me has been under scrutiny since the death of George Hessay, 15, from East Yorkshire, England, who killed himself in May after reportedly receiving bullying messages on the app.
The company deletes abusive content if reported, Hanna Talving, its chief executive, wrote in an email. “We also protect our site users from negative content by flagging it to them before they see it.”
Many adults have heard of Snapchat and Instagram Stories, but what about Live.ly, a rising live-streaming app with a large teenage audience? All three work like a disappearing magic act. You send photos, texts and videos, and poof.
Chances are, your teenager is using Snapchat: 75 percent of teens use the app, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey in April. In late June, Snapchat introduced Snap Map, a mapping feature that will share your location with a charming “Actionmoji” every time you open the app. (Set it to Ghost Mode to turn this function off.)
Instagram Impostor Accounts
In early May, Dawn Dunscombe, who lives in a small New Jersey suburb, learned that an Instagram account with the handle “I Have A Crush.1” was devised to impersonate her 10-year-old daughter.
Dunscombe’s daughter does not have an Instagram account. Yet the fake account was filled with posts, including claims that her daughter had a crush on a boy in her class. It wasn’t the outed crush that upset Dunscombe — the tormenting song that someone is “Sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g,” is playground standard — it was that the fake account was created in her daughter’s name so easily and with the purpose of damaging her young daughter’s reputation.
Profanities and rudeness littered the account, which is what gave it away. “A classmate told my daughter, ‘I knew it couldn’t be you because you don’t curse and you don’t talk rude like that to people,'” Dunscombe said.
By the time Dunscombe tracked down the account, it had been shut down. The school investigated. No one confessed. Dunscombe contacted Instagram multiple times and got a generic message. The situation was handled. Account closed.
Getting rid of an app is like playing whack-a-mole — particularly because many young people maintain multiple accounts with varying levels of secrecy.
“This arena in social media that we’re working in changes so quickly,” said Robert Appleton, the New York State Internet Crimes Against Children task force commander. “The kids don’t want the parents to discover what they’re using, so every time a new app comes out, they’re switching.”
And behavior, not apps that enable it, is the problem, said Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State University and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center.
“I could give you a list of things that kids tell us they do to each other,” Englander said. “But the more interesting question is: ‘Why are we seeing misuse of apps and technology perhaps among teenagers who wouldn’t engage in those behaviors in person?'”
Common Sense Media recommends Bark, Limitly and Track Kidz to monitor your children’s activity. But Anne Collier, the founder of iCanHelpLine.org, a social media intervention service for schools, said a trust relationship is even more essential.
“Monitoring and surveillance control aren’t always the most effective way,” she said. “It’s really best to have a human way of monitoring the situation.”
New York Times