Using social networking sites of one kind or another is second-nature to most children. New sites are springing up every day and there are far to many to mention on this page ... just look at the photo above, and that's a tiny selection.
Do you know what sites your kids are using? Do you know how they work, what your children and the people they 'meet' on them can say or do on them?
More to the point, are you aware of the potential dangers of kids using these various sites? Whether it's:
- Chatting with people they think are new 'friends', but who could actually intend to do them harm.
- Sharing or viewing inappropriate or adult images or other content.
- Being bullied or subject to other kinds of abuse.
-Being dared into carrying out dangerous or irresponsible acts on camera - 'neknominating' being one of the most widely publicised.
- Revealing personal or private information about themselves, friends or family. Or arranging to meet in person someone they've met online, when that person isn't who they said they were.
Here are a few of the more commonly-used sites that you may find your kids using. You can find out more about mainstream social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, here.
Many of these sites use live video as a means to communicate, or involve sending photos. This leaves the way open for people to send images which may be inappropriate.
Many have 'rules' such as minimum membership age, or the kind of content, images or content members are allowed to share. Invariably, the sign-up process relies on trust and in reality, it is easy for kids to pretend they're older. And the rules on type of content shared can easily be abused. Please read the advice in the Safeguarding Children section of this website on how to work with your children to keep them safe online - which includes their phones and tablets.
Snapchat is a popular photo sharing app for Apple and Android mobile devices, that lets users share their photos for a few seconds before they ‘disappear’. But anyone receiving a pic can keep it by taking a screen shot, or new apps have been developed which enable the picture to be retained without even doing that. The site is being heavily criticised for making it easy for children to be stalked or groomed. The age limit to join the site is 13, but many childrendo so much younger.
On Ask.fm, anonymous users ask other users questions. This means that they can easily hide their identity and effectively, say what they like without any consequences. Bullying and abuse on the site has allegedly led to very traumatic experiences amongst youngsters, in some cases tragically taking their own lives. The site owners have said that they will include a ‘report abuse’ button, provide optional registration and employ more people as moderators.
"No profiles, no passwords, it'w all anonymous", says the app's publicity. Designed as a means of posting news and messages in local communities and on college and school campuses, the app has gained a reputation as a tool for cyberbullies and its use has been banned in many schools in the UK and US.
Habbo ( full name Habbo Hotel) - is a social networking site aimed at teenagers, although we have heard of children as young as eight years old using it. Again, it has been the subject of considerable concern because of pornographic messages.
Shots of Me (or just Shots)
An app that enables users to take and post selfies, hence using only the front-view camera of their mobile phone. Shots has been subject to widespread concern about its use to send inappropriate photos and possibly resulting cyberbullying and blackmail.
Omegle's strapline is "Chat to strangers", so it is clear at the outset that your kids may be letting themselves (and you) in for a number of issues.
Again, on Chatroulette, kids have no idea who they are talking to on the other end of the screen, an instant cause for concern.
To give you another idea of the scale of the number of chat apps and sites kids can access these days, here is a small selection of sites similar to Chatroulette, based on the use of web and phone cams. Do you recognise any of them?
Cam Random Chat