#1 Being social, being safe.
‘Make new friends’ is the description for new social media app Yellow. It sounds straightforward and pleasant enough, does it not? But what if the friends you are making can easily lie about their name, age, and appearance, and by becoming friends you can instantly swap videos and photos of yourselves with the click of a button? Oh, and did I mention it captures your location data and shares your whereabouts too?
The premise of Yellow is that users aged 13-17 find friends by viewing profiles and swiping right to like and left to pass (which may sound familiar to some - there is a reason why the app has been dubbed ‘Tinder for teens’). The fact that it encourages young people to select friends simply based on their appearance is shallow and depressing enough, yet the app takes a more sinister turn as, once you are matched as a friend with someone, you can instantly start messaging via Snapchat.
Since the advent of MySpace back in 2003, parents and schools have been quick to adapt the ‘stranger danger’ message for social media and most of the young people I have worked with seem to be quite aware that they should protect themselves online from people they do not know. Yet Yellow claims to have around 7 million users, all supposedly between the ages of 13-17 years old. This poses two serious questions; 1) are these young people naïve enough to believe that all users of the site are the age they say they are? 2) do young people think it is ok to share contact details, photos, videos etc. with a stranger just because they are also a teenager and they kind of like the look of them? If the answer to either of these is yes (and Yellow’s numbers are pretty indicative of this) then the importance of E-Safety education and an open dialogue about social interaction on the web is as necessary as ever.
Intrigued, I decided to investigate whether Yellow users were really between 13-17 years old as claimed. Within 1 minute of me downloading the free app, I was 13 year old Gemma from Bishop’s Stortford who was interested in making ‘friends’ with anyone in the UK. The age verification process simply involves entering a date of birth, real or fake. That’s it.
My profile settings as "Gemma"
Within two minutes, I was offered profile after profile of teenage boys and girls to review. A constant stream of photos, videos and Snapchat handles, which in truth all appeared to be from teenagers, but if I could lie about my age and upload a profile picture from Google with such ease, then who else has had the same idea? What was also quite clear (and potentially more worrying) was the provocative way in which many of the young people presented themselves. Girls seductively pouting at the camera, boys with their tops off, both using suggestive emojis to depict what interests them. And a lot of mention of ‘Nudes’, i.e. sharing naked or sexually graphic images of themselves.
Some of the profiles that I was shown as ‘Gemma’
It seems that some of these teenagers believe that without the watchful eye of adult users and with the cloak and dagger of Snapchat’s self-destruct feature (shared content deletes after 10 seconds), their actions can be frivolous and without repercussion. Unfortunately, there are consequences and Yellow users need to understand what they are. This app is opportunistic for predators – young or old, male or female – who might want to target vulnerable, young people. It also promotes a jovial approach to online safety which coaxes users into forgetting that what goes online, can stay online forever. Remember, a simple screen shot can be the difference between anonymity and infamy in this digital age.
So what can you do as a parent or guardian? Well the first step is to educate yourself about the variety of social media platforms and apps that are available. You will most probably have heard of, and use, networks such as Facebook and Twitter but are you aware of Kik, Tumblr or Yik Yak? A good place to start is to visit www.net-aware.org.uk, a guide to over 40 popular social networks compiled by the NSPCC who have worked with parents, carers and young people to review the apps that children use. Common Sense Media also provides age ratings and reviews for a range of apps and web sites as well as games, movies and books. If your child uses the Google Play Store, check out their Parent Guide where they explain how to find family-friendly content and restrict mature content on their store.
Most importantly, be open with your child;
- Ask them what it is they like about the social media and apps they use.
- Discuss if they think there are any risks involved with using them, giving them clear, age appropriate advice on what the risks might be.
- Explain how they can conduct themselves responsibly and show them how they can use privacy settings to stay safe whilst still having fun on the app. This article from CEOP and Parent Zone lists how to control safety and privacy settings for the most popular social media platforms.
- Ensure your child knows they can always come to you for help. Tell them that if anything ever happens that worries them, it is not their fault, and they should tell you so that you can help them.
- Make certain they also know how to report concerns directly online. Share with them Childnet’s How to make a report web page which provides links to a range of reporting tools.
If you want to actually block or limit specific apps and features on your child’s personal devices, there are often parental controls that you can utilise. These will be different depending on the type of device they use, however here are some guides that may be of use; Using parental controls on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, How to set up parental controls on Android smartphones and tablets and Microsoft Family Account settings.
At the College, we are committed to ensuring our pupils have the ability to make smart, safe and ethical choices when using digital technologies. As well as regular assemblies, ICT lessons, our PSHE programme and the new Digital Leaders initiative, pupils are required to conduct themselves in line with the College’s IT Acceptable Use Policy. All House social media accounts are also closely monitored by HSMs.
Social media can be a fantastic medium that allows young people to communicate, collaborate, be creative and discover new information. Let’s just make sure they know how to do so safely and responsibly.
Digital Learning Support Advisor
For information on how to report an app that you believe to be a scam, or contain illegal or inappropriate content), please use the following links; Google Play Support, Microsoft Windows Support, Apple iTunes and App Store Support.