This Week in Social Media News For Parents

Stories for the week ending 12/4/2015

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Colleges struggle to understand Yik Yak, much less deal with it

yik-yak-logoStudents at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia have demanded that school admins block the popular, anonymous Yik Yak app on campus. The administration is balking, citing the load that such a block would impose on the school’s wifi network. Apparently, since Yik Yak is blocked at many high schools, students think they can make it happen at their college. It doesn’t work that way.

Mary Baldwin Students To Submit Proposal Against Yik Yak App

Not unrelated to the story above, students at Duke University are also angling to have Yik Yak blocked. Admins at Duke have a slightly better handle on the situation: “Since it can always be accessed via cell signal, no institution could truly eliminate it from their campus”.

Yik Yak ban infeasible, admins say

At issue with the high school comparison – Yik Yak voluntarily blocks its app at some high schools; they would never agree to do it for a college.

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Ask.fm is an awesome platform for making teens feel bad about themselves. This week a Canadian high school student posted a poll to Ask.fm asking fellow students to name their ugliest peer. One student, who was among those receiving votes, took to Facebook to call out the haters. Well done, young lady.

‘Ugliest girls’ poll: Student’s response to cyberbullying goes viral

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An ESPN anchor this week called for all college athletes to give up social media entirely during the season. Some teams choose to do it currently, but it’s a tiny minority. Stranger things have happened.

Herbstreit: ‘Get players away from social media’

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Hong Kong-based tech gadget maker VTech had its servers hacked last week, exposing customer data – parents’ and kids’. It turns out that the hack was worse than first reported. In addition to names, email addresses, passwords, and home addresses of millions of customers being compromised, hackers also obtained images and logs of chats between parents and kids. The hacker has come forward – apparently he has no bad intentions – and calls for VTech to be punished harshly for lax security.

Hacker Obtained Children’s Headshots and Chatlogs From Toymaker VTech

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Did we miss a big story? Please let us know.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Two Weeks in the Life of a 13-Year Old Girl on Ask.fm

If you’re the parent of a 13-teen old girl who uses Ask.fm, the question-and-answer social media site and app, you may have heard about the cyberbullying, vanity contests and general bad or unhealthy behavior that happens there. On the other hand, if you’re the parent of a 13-year old girl, it’s more likely in our experience that you have no idea whether your daughter uses Ask.fm, and maybe you’ve never heard of it.

ask-fm-logoWe look at teens’ social media activity all the time, and think that there’s no way many parents know exactly what is going on with platforms like Ask.fm. We thought we’d take a look at 2 weeks in the life of a female, 13-year old Ask.fm user in 6th grade and see if we can’t draw some conclusions. (By the way, we know she is 13 and in 6th grade because she states it freely and publicly.)

The young girl will remain nameless, but her Ask.fm activity is in no way that different from much of what we see.

In the last 14 days:

  • Number of questions answered: 142
  • Number of questions answered per day: 14
  • Number of times asked for her phone number: 2
  • Number of times she posted her phone number publicly: 2
  • Number of times she was asked who her best friend/5 best friends/10 best friends were: 15
  • Number of times she answered: 12
  • Number of pictures of her and her friends posted: 8
  • Number of times someone was offended to be left off the list: 1
  • Number of times she was asked about her body weight/type: 17
  • Number of weight-related questions meant to be hurtful: 6
  • Number of times her popularity was questioned: 9
  • Number of popularity-related questions meant to be hurtful: 8

In order to put these in context, allow us to explain some basics of how Ask.fm works:

  • All accounts and answers are public, so any time you answer a question, anyone can see it
  • Anonymity is optional. Users can be fully anonymous, use their real name or a pseudonym
  • Even users registered under their real name can choose to ask any question anonymously
  • You don’t have to be “friends” with someone to ask them a question
  • “Questions” don’t have to be a question; statements are fine, i.e. “your not popular tbh”. Translation: “You’re not popular, to be honest”

What have we learned?

First, in the case of the cyberbullying above, none of the cruel questions or statements were made by someone using their real name, although this girl may have known who some of them are. Perhaps she is so resilient that none of this bothers her, but we doubt it.

Second, it is very unsafe for a 13-year old to be divulging personal details including her location, cell phone number and photos using a public account on a social media site.

Third, Ask.fm as the 10-13 year old crowd is currently using it is very bad for self-esteem. The obsession with weight and body type and the cliquey nature of constantly asking/listing who your best friends are, and thereby naming who is in and who is out, must be utterly demoralizing for some of these kids.

To some extent, young girls forming cliques, excluding others and exerting peer pressure in any way possible has probably been happening for thousands of years. With social media, the results are publicly displayed for all to see, permanently. When a teen joins Ask.fm, she is opting to join a community where this type of behavior is the norm.

The age limit for Ask.fm is 13, but we seriously doubt that many 13-year olds are mature enough to deal with the type or harassment and angst that routinely occur there. We strongly recommend that parents of 13-year olds wait a couple of years before letting your child have an Ask.fm account.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Ask.fm and the Rise of #TBH

If you’re a parent, you’re probably not a user of social network and app Ask.fm. If your kids are between 10 and 17, there’s a very good chance they are.

ask-fm-logoIf you’re not familiar with it, Ask.fm operates on a questions and answers framework. Anyone can ask any other user a question, and that user can answer the question if she wants. We’ll use the pronoun “she” but we see plenty of teen boys on the site as well. Ask.fm has unfortunately been linked to countless cyberbullying attacks and some teen suicides.

The first time one logs onto Ask.fm, it’s a bit confusing to figure out what is going on – for two reasons. The first is that “identity” is a fuzzy concept. Users can be fully anonymous, use their real name or a synonym. Ask doesn’t care who you are. Questions can be asked using your real user name or anonymously (even if your account lists your real name), so it’s often not clear who is talking to whom.

The second reason is that there is a developing array of acronyms that can be baffling to parents. One that we are seeing a lot these days is “TBH”.

TBH, as you might assume, stands for “to be honest”, but on Ask it is frequently used as a question. If someone posts TBH directed at you, you are expected to respond by saying what you think of that person. “You’re the best” or “so pretty” would be the type of response that the asker is seeking. “You’re ugly” or “I never liked you” are not. Yes, it is narcissistic, but teens often are self-absorbed.

Obviously, when an exchange like the one above goes well, it’s no big deal. The asker gets to feel better about herself, and the answerer has spread some cheer for a brief moment, perhaps publicly for the world to see.

Actually, though, it can be a big deal. Answers can be tinged with petty jealously or can be downright hurtful personal attacks. No teen would ask to be cyberbullied, but that can be the result. The teen who posts TBH is unwittingly looking for trouble, and once encountered, the damage is done.

Friendly online Q&A sessions can be fun, but teens should understand that when you ask for praise you could wind up getting the opposite.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Ask.fm and Regulators Forge Agreement Over Cyberbullying

Since its inception, or at least since it caught on with the teen crowd, Ask.fm has been a magnet for cyberbullies and has been blamed for the suicides of at least ten teens.

Ask.fm IconThe question and answer social network has grown quickly, attracting over 180 million members, 42% of which are under 18. The site has revamped its privacy and safety policies at least twice in the last year in an attempt to make the site safer, but those attempts have generally been viewed as unsuccessful. Despite the negative press, Ask.fm was acquired this month by internet giant IAC/Interactive Corp., and as a result of pressure from state regulators the new parent company has vowed to make the cyberbullying on the site less of an issue for young users, but for real this time.

Back in June of 2013, the Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler vowed to take action against Ask.fm’s lax policies. Gansler was joined by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in guiding a new set of policies for Ask.fm around user privacy. As part of the new policies, Ask.fm will remove the founders from the top jobs at the company and:

  • Create a Safety Advisory BoardAsk-fm-bullying-ex-suicide
  • Hire a Chief Trust and Safety Officer (Catherine Teitelbaum, formerly of Yahoo)
  • Create a new online Safety Center
  • Prohibit children under 13 from joining the network
  • Cooperate with suicide prevention and missing children organizations

They have also undertaken to achieve something that is impossible as far as we know. According to Forbes:

“[Ask.fm] will also remove users that have been the subject of three complaints and take “reasonable steps to block those users from creating new accounts under different user names.”

If you’ve ever joined a social network, you know that in most cases the only verifiable piece of identification that you need to open an account is an email address, and those are free and very easy to create. The idea that they can effectively prevent to worst bullies from joining anonymously or under another alias is a promise that is not possible to deliver on, even if they do take “reasonable steps”.

Until they have proven that the service is truly different, we continue to urge the parents of young teens to stay off Ask.fm.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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The Founders of Ask.fm Make Their Case on Cyberbullying

We have written a few times in the past about semi-anonymous Q&A social media network Ask.fm, and most of what we’ve written has been negative, including the following:

Ask.fm IconThe problems with Ask.fm, as we see it, are the optional anonymity and the behavior of some users. In short, the “good” kids tend to use their real names and ask questions genuinely looking for feedback. The “bad” kids tend to remain anonymous and lash out viciously at targets, for no apparent reason other than to entertain themselves or get laughs. The abuse is really quite shocking, and multiple users are known to pile on victims.

The company is not all that accessible to the media. They are located in Latvia, and tend to keep a low profile. I was surprised to see that the Ask.fm founders, Ilja and Mark Terebin, granted an extensive interview to Time magazine, which was published this week.

The interviewer spent a good deal of time asking about the teen suicides that have been blamed on cyberbullying on Ask.fm, and the founders were quick to defend themselves.

“I know of no case of suicide because of bullying on Ask.fm. The Hannah Smith case, the Izzy Dix case—we gave the inquests all the logs, all the information. And we were not found responsible in either case.”

On the question of whether Ask.fm should be shut down because of the rampant cyberbullying:

“This website, if you close it down, you will not have stopped bullying. It’s everywhere. It’s offline. It’s in schools. The bullying is by SMS, too, other social networks. And of course it happens on Ask.fm as well. But you can’t just close everything. Even if you close everything, you take down the Internet, you take down mobile phones—if the child is going to school, there still will be the problem of bullying.

And people say anonymity is a problem. But don’t forget about the people who need anonymity. Teenagers, especially, are afraid that their opinions will be judged by others. It’s sometimes important that they can ask questions anonymously.”

We agree that anonymity can sometimes enable positive freedom of speech and expression that might not occur when a real identity is attached, however, our company dedicated to helping parents make good decisions about their family’s online activity. We choose to stand firm on our cautious stance. The article states that 42% of the site’s 120 million users are under the age of 17. Regardless of whether the founders acknowledge a link between the site and teen suicides, the fact of the matter is that a lot of cyberbullying happens there. As a parent, if you knew there was a park in town where kids were constantly fighting, you probably wouldn’t allow your teens to hang out there. We strongly recommend that parents prohibit teens from joining Ask.fm, as long as the culture is as toxic as is the case currently.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

Ask.fm Launches New Safety Initiative

We wrote back in August 2013 about how social Q&A site Ask.fm had adopted safer policies in response to public outcry and pressure from advertisers. Ask.fm has been a controversial site from day one – a home to rampant cyberbullying and the reported catalyst behind at least 9 teen suicides in recent memory.

ask-fm-cyberbullyingAccording to the company in a press release issued yesterday, Ask.fm now boasts more than 100 million users from 150 countries, and users post 35 million questions per day. The press release was occasioned by the Latvian company upping the ante on safety and rolling out its new Safety Centre, where parents, caregivers, teachers and users can get help with safety tips and an explanation of the site’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

According to Ask.fm’s CEO Ilja Terebin:

“The safety and protection of our users, especially younger ones, is of paramount importance to us and we now have a place where people can learn more about this crucial topic. We will constantly review how risks to users change and will update guidance in order to ensure they remain alert to changing behaviours online.”

As a parent, you may be wondering if Safety Centre will make the site is any safer than it has been in the past. The main problem with the site is that anonymity is optional, and that will probably continue to be the problem. The fact of the matter is that bullies act more harshly when they are not at risk of being found out.

On Ask.fm, since users can opt to be anonymous or use real names, it is not surprising that the “good” kids tend to use their real names and the “bad” kids tend to hide behind anonymity. That has not changed. Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen, some kids who would not otherwise be inclined toward cyberbullying tend to join in when the bullies are getting a big reaction from the crowd.

To its credit, the company does claim to have taken some steps to increase the safety of the site – the site has increased the number of moderators who respond to user reports of inappropriate content, and moderators also review all photo and video content as it is posted, and remove it if necessary.

Is your youngster likely to be a victim of cyberbullying on Ask.fm? If that is the case, are you more likely to be able to learn the identity of the perpetrator? Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the Ask.fm Safety Centre.

On a positive note:

If someone says something mean or horrible to you, you can use the block button to stop them asking you any more questions, even if they haven’t told you who they are

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You can also use the report button to tell us about someone who is being unkind, bullying you or bothering you and we will look into it (and no-one will know that you reported it except us

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You can turn off anonymous questions in your Privacy Settings – this way nobody will be able to ask you anything unless you can see their profile

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If you see someone else being bullied or being asked unkind or horrible questions, do the right thing and report it to us – no-one will know that you reported it except us

 

Not so positive:

Remember that anything you post on your ask.fm profile is automatically public!

 

So, all users’ posts are public, and any other user can respond unless that user has been blocked. Regarding revealing the identity of cyberbullies – Ask.fm will not reveal their identity unless they have breached the site’s Terms of Use.

Also, a parental request to take down a child’s account will not be honored, regardless of the age of the child. You’ll have to get your child to agree to do it.

In summary, the information found in Ask.fm’s new Safety Centre makes it easier to understand the Terms of Service, how the site works and what the risks are, but there are still risks to be sure. As a matter of fact, the most serious risks are the same as they always have been. The stated age limit is 13, but we caution parents of kids under 18 to keep them off Ask.fm or risk them being subject to harassment and cyberbullying.

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the right.

Study: Anonymity Online Leads to Cyberbullying and Bad Behavior

We’ve been saying for a while that in the course of our research, we see significantly more cyberbullying and general bad behavior on anonymous sites and networks than we do on “real name” networks. Common sense would dictate that this makes sense, but some data out this week backs up our views.

Arthur Santana, an assistant professor at the University of Houston researched thousands of comments on online articles both at sites where readers use their real name and sites that allow anonymity (Full research here: It’s not free). In summary, from the NJ.com article linked above:

“53 percent of anonymous comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. By comparison, about 29 percent of comments on sites that require commenters to use their names were deemed uncivil.”

What does this mean for parents? Well, you’d be well served telling your teens to avoid anonymous networks for a start.

Santana is quoted as saying:

“One of the benefits of online anonymity is that it allows people to express their views, uninhibited, especially if it is an unpopular opinion,” Santana said. “It’s when commenting descends into hateful language, threats or racism that the conversation breaks down and any benefits of constructive dialogue goes away.”

Are social media comments all that different from article comments? We don’t think so. Anecdotally but consistent with the results of the study, reports of cyberbullying recently have been widespread on anonymous networks such as Ask.fm, 4chan and Whisper App.

The risk that your teen, if posting on an anonymous network, may be cyberbullied or otherwise treated harshly should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the chances that your teen will take the bait and get involved in a vulgar or hateful exchange is also increased on networks where anonymity is allowed.

We’re certain most parents agree that just because the typical comment or exchange is mean-spirited, that doesn’t make it OK. Encourage your teens to take full responsibility for what they do and say online, and stick to networks where the discourse is civil and good digital citizens are the norm.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Are Anonymous Websites Safe For Teens?

If a teen is using a social media network or website where anonymity is allowed, or is the default, there is a perception that there is less risk than if the teen were online using his or her real name. I know that my kids believed this to be true, at least before I explained things to them. Parents should understand that this is not necessarily the case.

AnonymousLet’s take a look at a number of reasons why being anonymous, or thinking you are, can either lead to risky behavior or put an internet user at risk:

Nobody knows who you are – Let’s face it – the only thing that keeps some impulsive teens from doing or posting inappropriate things online is the fear of getting caught. If a teen “knows” that he is anonymous, bad or riskier behavior could become the norm.

Cyberbullying – Similar to the point above, cyberbullies are bolder when the fear of being found out is zero. If your teen is on an anonymous site, even if she is a great kid not likely to be a bully, she is vulnerable to being targeted by bullies herself.

Other inappropriate conduct – The number of incidents involving cyberbullying and other inappropriate conduct that we see on anonymous sites and networks is much higher than on “real name” networks. If your teen frequents these sites day in and day out, he may learn that this inappropriate behavior is normal, or may join in just to seem cool.

Doxing – Short for document tracing, doxing is the process of internet users exposing the true identity of another user, even though that user had been posting anonymously. If your teen has been acting inappropriately online, and gets outed, there could be serious repercussions.

Predator risk – If your teen is anonymous, then so are the predators, making it easier to craft an online identity that may seem like a friend-able type of person to your teen. Beware as not all internet users are who they appear to be.

Now let’s take a look at the places online that teens frequent where anonymity is either common or the default identity.

Ask.fm – Ask.fm is a question and answer site designed to allow users to post questions and receive answers from friends and strangers. It is a forum frequented by teen cyberbullies, and has been linked to numerous teen suicides. Anonymity is optional on Ask.fm, and from what we’ve seen, victims are often users with their real name as a handle while the bullies choose to remain anonymous. We caution parents that teens should proceed with caution when using Ask.fm.

Reddit – Reddit is a news, general interest and commenting website designed to allow users to post and vote on content. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and commenters can be extremely cruel. There is a lot of great content on Reddit (100 million unique users last month), but users need to have a thick skin to engage here.

4chan – 4chan is a fully/mostly anonymous image posting and discussion forum, organized by topic. All users are anonymous on 4chan and the content is totally unmoderated. Teens should avoid it.

Whisper App – Whisper App is a photo and group-messaging app designed to allow users to post stock or personal pictures along with comments – usually secrets or confessions. While mostly harmless, Whisper has recently been used for anonymous cyberbullying. Fortunately, the app does offer a relatively easy way to report bullying.

There are many sites and networks where, wile most users operate under their real name, but many are anonymous, such as Twitter, Snapchat and other messaging apps, Instagram, Tumblr and online gaming platforms. We advise teens to use good judgment when interacting with users whose true identity is not known.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the right.

What is Doxing and Why You Should Care

Doxing (short for document tracing) is the process of having your true identity revealed online, even though you had been posting anonymously using a pseudonym or other alias. It is also a form of cyberbullying. Why should parents care? Because your teen may be at risk.

rz-tf2-2Consider websites/social networks where anonymity is allowed or encouraged, such as Reddit, Ask.fm or 4chan. The reason that you’re acting anonymously could be because you’re doing something that you don’t want others to know about, or it might be something completely harmless. In any case, if you believe that you are anonymous, your guard is probably down, and your actions may be more crude, unfriendly or embarrassing than they would be otherwise. What if everything that you’ve done online is revealed publicy?

On Reddit, users choose their own user name and it is almost always not their real name. On 4chan, users are not permitted to register, so their user name is a randomly generated set of characters. FYI, 4chan doxing doesn’t usually happen on 4chan, rather, is happens when a group of 4chan users decide to dox a user from another network like YouTube or Facebook.

We specifically mention Reddit and 4chan because their users tend to be more computer savvy than average, and so their ability to discover someone’s true identity and do the doxing is actually quite impressive.

Why does the doxing happen? Something it’s merely sport, and other times it’s because a user is disliked or has anonymously posted an unpopular or distasteful opinion. In many cases, the doxers consider what they’re doing to be a public good, but it can have unintended consequences. And if you are doxed, your name, email address, social media profiles and other information can be made public.

How can your teen (or you) avoid becoming the victim of doxing?

Choose a unique user name for each anonymous network that you use – if you have the same user name for all accounts that you set up, it makes it very easy for a hacker to link them together

If you are posting things that you don’t want linked to your true identity, use a throwaway email address – using yourname@gmail.com when setting up a social media account is not a great idea is you’re up to hijinks

Act appropriately online – if you never post anything inappropriate online, the fallout from the doxing will be minimal (unless your SSN and banking information is unearthed)

Do not post deliberately unpopular opinions (trolling) – you will run the highest risk of being doxed if you are deliberately pulling the chain of a person or group who has the resources to track you down

Teens need to keep it clean online, but for those who prefer to be a little edgier, we advise guarding your identity closely.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the right.

Utah Coach Suspends Entire Football Team Over Cyberbullying

I was very surprised to read the story about the Utah high school football coach who suspended his entire team over multiple cyberbullying accusations.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 8.59.05 AMMatt Labrum, the coach at Union High School, received reports that multiple players had been bullying another student on notorious question and answer site Ask.fm. Since Ask.fm users are able to be completely anonymous, the coach was unable to identify exactly which players were to blame, so he suspended the entire team after last Friday’s game.

While the official suspension only lasted one day, the team is still not back on the field and some changes have been made. The team has elected five new captains and the players have agreed to do community service in lieu of practicing this week.

For those who think that a one-day suspension is too lenient, we disagree. The coach in this case sent a strong message to the team, and by not trying to determine exactly which players were at fault, sent a “sense of community” message that this type of hurtful behavior is an issue for the whole team.

Message delivered. While the story doesn’t mention it, I hope that the players’ parents were involved as well. Coaches and teachers can only do so much. Parents need to take the lead in educating teens about cyberbullying and other negative online behaviors.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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