Instant Messaging Apps
Over the last few months quite a few new messaging apps have been released giving young people different spaces to share secrets anonymously online (Whisper and Yik Yak to name a couple).
Just as a Sat Nav uses Global Positioning System (GPS) data to locate where you are in your car, these apps use the same data, this time from your smartphone, to identify your physical location and share anonymous posts from people who are nearby (typically within a 5 mile radius). This makes the service all the more unique to each person which might attract some younger users. As with other anonymous messaging services such as Ask.fm, the new apps highlight similar risks around seeing posts or receiving replies which contain harmful/ harassing content. Because of this, there’s no time like the present to talk to the young people you work with about these risks.
A good place to start would be with age restrictions. Many of these applications are not meant to be used by children under the age of 13 and some even 17. It would also be good to remind users that the GPS data on their phone could mean that that they’re releasing more information than they realise about their whereabouts. If posts are received that are personally harassing in nature, users should take evidence of this, block the user and report via the sites reporting routes. If you’re helping a young person navigate this process and need further support , please don’t hesitate to give our helpline a call on 0844 381 4772 or drop us an email: email@example.com
To end on a positive note, it’s great to see new messaging services taking proactive steps to keep younger users safer online; ‘Whisper’ have a project called ‘Your Voice’ which signposts users to services that they can use for support with mental health issues and ‘Yik Yak’ uses geo data in a really positive way to prevent it from being accessed in schools across the US. Although this feature is yet to be rolled out in the UK, the fact that it can be achieved has great implications for the future of these services and the protection of young people online.