The Pros and Cons of Anonymous Social Media
Keeping secrets is part of growing up. Deciding what you’ll tell people about yourself — and others — is one way to develop an understanding of privacy and trust.
Thanks to Facebook and other forms of social media, nothing is secret. Therefore, many teens are switching to anonymous apps like Whisper, Secret, Yik Yak, Street Chat and FessApp to let off steam without worrying about repercussions. Teens confess crushes and mistakes, make edgy jokes, laugh over embarrassing moments and divulge sensitive information. Some open up about abusive relationships, conflicts with friends and family, health concerns and even self-destructive behaviors.
Anonymous apps enable young people to explore who they are and to discover that their problems are not unique. Given the potential for serious problems, it’s easy for parents to overreact. Armed with a basic understanding of anonymous social media, you’ll be in a better position to talk to teens about anonymous social media. Here are questions worth asking:
1. What apps are you using?
Just as important, find out what apps your child’s friends are using. Many kids feel they need to have a particular app simply to keep track of what’s being said by others.
2. How are the apps being used?
Some teens use anonymous apps wisely — posting funny messages or supporting people that are having a tough time. Others are seduced by the popularity contest. In order to get more "likes," they push the envelope with posts that are increasingly outrageous, sexual or cruel. Teens need to hear that you expect them to live up to their values in private as well as public settings.
3. What’s the appeal?
Help your child think through the pros and cons of anonymity. How does it influence what people post? Be sure your child understands that privacy policies often change and anonymity is never guaranteed. Remind your child that police can and do track down people who break the law by making threats or posting sexual photos of minors.
4. What’s the role of GPS?
Many anonymous apps depend on smartphone location services. YikYak, for example, was designed by college students so people on the same campus could share random messages. In high schools, the program has been used for bullying, bashing teachers and reporting bomb threats. Yik Yak erected "geofences" designed to make the app off limits for many public schools but, of course, that doesn’t stop students from accessing it in other settings. Remember you can always disable the smartphone’s GPS feature.
5. Which sites should be off-limits?
Make it clear that you don’t want your child to use "random chat apps" such as Omegle, Chatrandom and Tiny Chat, which make it all too easy for teens to connect with strangers. Also, steer your child away from sites that have developed a reputation for bullying. Ask.fm, for example, is notorious for cruel questions such as "Why are you fat?" or even "Why don’t you kill yourself?"
Some developers are creating anonymous social networks that bring out the best in people. Let (let.com) is an app that encourages users to award stars to each other and claims to have zero tolerance for bad behavior. Outpour (outpour.io) allows users to share positive comments they might be too shy to make in person. Their motto: "Go find the beauty in people and tell them."
Opening up candid conversation about these apps defuses their power. Teens may not tell their parents everything, but they should have confidence that when they are burdened by a secret, Mom and Dad are still the best people to confide in.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer savvy kids, including one with special needs. Visit growing-up-online.com to read more of her columns.