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It seems that almost every week there is a new app or website that kids are using to IM (instant message) each other and it can be hard to keep up. It’s important for parents to know how these work, and how old your child should be to use them, usually 13 or over, to help avoid cyberbullying and sexting.
It’s important to talk to your child about what is and is not appropriate to share online and the dangers of sexting, especially as with most of these apps they can send images or videos free of charge. Also ensure they know what to do if they receive bullying messages or images that are inappropriate, ie to tell you and block the user.
There are also some basic rules to talk to your child about such as not using your real name on your profile when it is available publicly, never adding your location to your messages or photos, and never accept a follower or friend who you don't actually know in real life.
Anonymous social media apps
Whisper is a new social media app which allows users to post snippets of information anonymously to another user or group of users using images from the app and creative fonts. It allows users to respond anonymously to other anonymous 'whispers'.
While Whisper is 100% anonymous, users are still able to comment on or like other Whispers, as well as receive private messages from other users. Users can also share their location with others. It is a free app. The app is rated 17+ so children under that age should not be using it. It has been described as being like Facebook, but anonymous.
Yik Yak is another new social media app which is gaining popularity starting in the US and now in the UK. It describes itself as a 'local bulletin board' for sharing information and connecting with others in your area (within a 1.5 mile radius), without having to know them. Users are limited to posting 200 characters but no images. The app is rated 17+ so children under that age should not be using it. The app is free to download but has in-app purchases.
To help prevent Yik Yak being used to cyberbully, Yik Yak has a 'geofencing' option where you can request for access to Yik Yak to be banned in a certain area. Some schools and colleges in the US are using this blocking method due to issues with students misusing the app.
Secret is another anonymous social media app allowing users to share 'secrets' such as what you are thinking or feeling using words and images with your friends. When you post a 'secret' it is delivered anonymously to the people in your contacts list who are also on Secret - the app uses their email address and/or phone number to find your connections. These people can view, like, and comment on your post. If a friend likes your secret, it will be shared among their friends so secrets can spread. The app accesses your contacts list to find out who your friends are but there are no names or profiles displayed on the posts.
You can see how many friends you have also on Secret but you won't be able to see their identity. Once you sign up, you have to have at least three friends also on Secret before the app will publish your post, this is to ensure your anonymity. All posts are encrypted so that not even the team behind this app know who is posting.
Secret has just launched in the UK having started in the US. The app is free to download and is rated 12+. When you sign up, the app asks for your email and phone number which allows you to see secrets from friends.
Other social media apps
Children should be over 13 to have an account on ask.fm. People join this site and then others can ask them questions (this can be anonymously). All too often people use the site to ask inappropriate questions or post sexual comments. Anything posted is visible publicly and you don’t really have any control over where else this information can appear.
You can change whether you allow people to ask you questions anonymously in your privacy settings. If someone asks a question you don’t like or think is inappropriate or they are bullying, you can block that user so they can't contact you again. It is important to talk to your child so that they know how to do this and let them know to tell you about any abuse or inappropriate comments. There is also a ‘report abuse’ button.
Essentially if your child is on this website there are no restrictions about the type of content they are seeing so we would recommend you maintain a close eye on what your child is doing online and talk to them about the dangers of posting information about themselves.
Snapchat is a free app where you can take a picture or video and send it to your friends. Kids like it because the image isn’t permanent and because it feels spontaneous. You get to decide how long a photo will "live," from 1 to 10 seconds, after it’s viewed. It’s important that users realise that this doesn’t mean the image can’t be captured by the receiver by taking a screenshot or other method. Unlike social network sites and other photo-sharing apps, you can't post publicly. You can only share with friends and you get to decide who to share with each time you send a photo.
Snapchat runs on iPhone, Android, iPad, Android tablets and iPod Touch. You have to be age 13 or over to use Snapchat although they offer a limited version called Snapkidz which allows images to be created but not sent or received. Once you have set up an account, by default, anyone who knows your username or phone number can send you a message.
You can configure Snapchat to only accept messages from users on your “My Friends” list in the settings menu in the application, select “Who can send me snaps...”, then select “My Friends” instead of “Everyone.”
To block a user, tap the Menu icon, select “My Friends,” locate their name in the list and swipe right across their name (or in Android, long-press the name). Press “Edit” and then “Block.” If you would like to delete a friend from your contacts, press “Delete.” Even if you haven’t added the user as a friend, their name will still appear in the “My Friends” list under “Recent” if they have sent you a message recently.
If a child receives inappropriate photos or someone's harassing him or her, contact Snapchat via email@example.com or by going to Snapchat.com and clicking on Support. You can delete the account as long as you have the username and password. If you wish to delete the account and your child won't give you his or her password, you can submit a deletion request.
WhatsApp Messenger lets teens send text messages, videos, photos, and short audio messages to one or many people with no message limits or fees (after paying for the app). Messages can only be sent to other smartphone users who also have WhatsApp. Once you install the app, it checks your address book to see if anyone else you know is already using WhatsApp, and connects you automatically. You have to be over 16 to use Whatsapp legally. There are ways to send messages anonymously so it is always essential to make sure you talk to your child about what is and isn't appropriate to send and receive.
Instagram is a photo editing and sharing ‘app’ that allows users to edit photos taken on their phone and post them to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with the click of a button. Instagram photos are open to the public by default and Instagram lets users browse public photos posted by others and by people whom they follow. You have to be over 13 to use Instagram.
This started in 2010 as a photo-sharing platform viewable only amongst its user base. In April 2012 Facebook acquired Instagram and its use has since exploded. Now those photos can go almost anywhere and you can browse through all of them in a few brief moment by going to Instagram.com/[USER NAME ].
Once an Instagram profile has been created, anyone can browse them and follow other Instagram users. There is an option to make an Instagram profile private, and similar to Facebook, users have to send a request to connect to that person.
Ensure that the photo sharing is set to Private this will prevent the photos from going out publicly where anyone can view them. You can set the Privacy setting through the Instagram interface by going to Settings and scrolling down to the setting labelled “Photos are Private” or “ Photo Privacy” and ensuring it is turned on. Work with your teen to select an appropriate profile photo that you can both agree on. It’s best to avoid using an actual photo of your teen and instead find something that best represents your teen or their interests. Turn off the Geo-tagging or Location of photos, that way even if a photo gets out to the public, hopefully no one knows where your child is.
BBM allows anyone who has a Blackberry to connect to one network, share information and chat with friends in real time. It is an always-on application and does not require a whole load of battery power to run, although you need to pay and be connected to the Blackberry server to have access to it. BBM is free to use, which means that unlike text messages, there is no charge regardless of how many messages are sent – or for picture messages. Unlike normal text messages, BBM messages can be sent free to a number of people at once, allowing large group conversations.