It seems like new social media apps are popping up every day. And that’s because, well, they are! Kids are always looking for something new, trendy and fun to use to connect with friends, and app makers are always trying to come up with something cool they can make a little money with.
On top of that desire for fun and trendy, the big push these days is also to get video into the communication mix. I mean, what better way to connect with your buds then through a quick vid of you playing games, singing songs, dancing as a sleek, sexy avatar or just doing something crazy and attention-grabbing?
Of course, as all those apps start filling kids’ smartphones, it can be tough for parents to keep up–and keep things safe. So let’s take a quick thumbnail tour of some of the more popular video-focused apps these days and talk briefly about any potential parental concerns. We’ll start with a few you’re likely familiar with.
What is it? OK, everybody knows YouTube, right? It’s a site where you can upload and share your videos of just about any stripe with the world at large. There are privacy settings and you get access to stuff that ranges from entertaining silliness to videos with an educational slant. But …
Concerns: With 500 new hours of content added to YouTube every minute, inappropriate and even illegal content still shows up. And questionable stuff has been known to pop up even in videos aimed at kids. On top of that, comments posted on the uploaded videos can range from encouraging to downright nasty and hurtful. This won’t necessarily motivate you to shut down YouTube for the kids, but it should prompt you to stay in tune with what channels and Influencers your children are watching.
What is it? You’ve likely heard all the buzz concerning security issues with this Chinese-owned app. But what exactly is this thing? Well, it’s an app for creating and sharing short videos. Users create short music videos of 3 to 15 seconds and/or short looping videos anywhere from 3 to 60 seconds. Special effects can be added via TikTok’s tech and creativity is encouraged. You’ll see everything from lip-sync vids to acrobatic displays to dancing speeches.
Concerns: To use this you’re supposed to be at least 13, but there isn’t a real way to validate age. In short: anyone can get on this app. There’s language in the video mix and some video subjects can wear clothing that’s, shall we say, less than discrete. Also, the accounts are set to “public” by default, so contact between strangers and kids is possible.
What is it? It’s a pretty open-ended video chatting app. Friends can communicate with each other through live video and texts in chat groups. There are some settings to make your group interaction private and selective, but you need to search them out.
Concerns: The video stream here is live with no outside screening or moderation, so inappropriate activities, including sexting, are quite possible. Users can also take screenshots of said activities. And even though there are private group settings, there’s nothing keeping friends of friends (who are otherwise strangers) from joining a private group. The app does not notify you if a stranger does enter the group.
What is it? This multimedia app allows users to send photos and videos that are meant to quickly disappear right after they’re viewed. SnapChat calls it “Sharing a moment.” Special effects in the form of lenses and filters can be used to alter the images. And it’s rated for ages 12 and up.
Concerns: The fact that the images “disappear” after a short interval has emboldened some users to post racy and/or sexual content. But users can grab a screenshot of the images sent their way before those visuals are erased. And the fact is, videos and images don’t completely disappear from a receiving device.
What is it? Look is a free video messaging app that allows users to chat one-on-one, in groups or subgroups. Users send out videos, but they can also text or send emojis and gifs. Users can also apply filters to their vids and draw on said images.
Concerns: There are no content filters here, so kids can stumble upon questionable and inappropriate content. Strangers can also message kids pretty easily. In fact, the app encourages users to connect with nearby strangers without needing their phone number. Users have reported cyberbullying, and once you sign up, it’s almost impossible to delete your account. And since activity from the Look app doesn’t show up on their parents’ phone bill, some teens use the app to hide their excessive phone activity.
What is it? IMVU stands for Instant Messaging Virtual Universe. This is more of a custom avatar-filled world than a pure video app, but you can easily create videos, too. Think of it like expressing yourself through specifically crafted SIMS game characters.
Concerns: People of all ages are crowding in here and some areas are very adult, including avatar nudity and depictions of some explicit sexual acts. Even though the app states that it’s not meant for kids under 17, they still can get in and all profiles are public. Chat rooms are unmoderated and a Chat Now feature can be chosen that randomly pairs users with other potentially unknown individuals. Bullying is common and predators are possible.
What is it? Users can go live with video streaming, video chat with others, or watch live stream videos from other broadcasters. It’s rated for teens 17 and up. Users can create and vlog their own shows and interviews, live-stream videos of themselves playing video games or just sit around chatting about their personal lives. And Voice Chat rooms are designed for users to join in live voice chat with people they don’t know.
Concerns: Content on the app can be mature, violent, and inappropriate for teens. There’s no age verification. The emphasis on interaction with strangers is particularly unsafe. And for all the stranger focus, bullying, nudity, violence, and foul language are no strangers here.
What is it? Kik is designed to primarily be a way to text with friends at high speed, with little profile pictures appearing next to the text. But you can send video as well. Kik promotes the “privacy” of its features since users only need sign up with an email account.
Concerns: The app is rated ages 17+, but there is no age verification so anyone can download it. The privacy feature can also be a handy tool for predators since they don’t have to reveal any identifying information either. The app has been blamed in a number of child sex abuse cases. The New York Times put it this way:
“Kik is a space that parents are unlikely to know about. But it is also a place where inappropriate sexual content and behavior can flourish. Law enforcement officials say Kik goes further than most widely used apps in shielding its users from view, often making it hard for investigators to know who is using it, or how.”
What is it? Voxer is a hybrid texting, talking and videoing social media app that allows multiple users to quickly exchange push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-like messages. Voxer also offers end-to-end encryption, so that when users create a Private Chat, only the person who is receiving the message can listen, read, or see it.
Concerns: When users sign up, the app automatically shares their location. By default, profiles are public and other users can access your personal information such as name, location, and phone number. The app is used for cyberbullying messages, which can be even more hurtful when they can be played repeatedly. Oddly, Voxer is rated for ages 4+ in the App Store.
So, there’s a taste of the kinds of video-friendly social media apps that are out there (and potentially on your teen’s phone right now) and some of the concerns that each might raise. Does that mean that each of them is useless and ought to be discarded immediately? Not necessarily. But the above list does point out that you can find some sticking points, and at times big problems, with both the new and familiar apps and social media tools we use if you look closely enough. And let’s face it, looking closely is exactly what we parents and guardians should be doing.
We need to sit down with our kids and talk about the apps they’re using. The plusses, the minuses. We should keep track of negative reports in the news about new apps and seek out any positive guidance offered by parent-focused sites like Plugged In. And it’s a good idea to investigate some products that can help you monitor your kids’ time online as well.
It’s all a process of investigation, understanding, protection and open communication for and with those you love. The new tech-savvy state of parenting. You might want to check out the links below for some further tips and insight.