You have probably been hearing more about anonymous social media sites and apps lately. They have been a big deal in 2014, and look to be unstoppable. Users of all ages are having fun using them, and while some have caused big problems (more below), their existence alone doesn’t violate any laws.
As a parent, you should make an effort to know which apps your teens are using, and how they are using them. It’s a great conversation starter, and can serve as a basis for an ongoing dialog. As your teen ages, and the allure of anonymity increases, it is more likely that she’ll try some or all of these.
If you aren’t up to speed on which anonymous apps and sites are hot, and most parents aren’t, allow us to help get you up to speed.
First, anonymous sites generally work on one of three frameworks, or some combination of two:
- They are associated with some identity, but often not a real name
- They are location-based and fully anonymous
- They are connected to your phone’s address book or your social connections, so a user’s network consists of “friends”, but the sender’s anonymity is preserved
Ask.fm – With 135 million registered users, Ask.fm is not flash in the pan. Anonymity is completely optional on Ask. It is structured as a Q&A forum and is available online and via an app. Cyberbullying is exceedingly common on Ask, at least in part because the “good” kids tend to use their real names and open up, and the cyberbullies are almost always anonymous. Ask.fm has been linked to numerous teen suicides.
Recommendation – Keep your teens off of Ask.fm. There are plenty of alternatives with less cyberbullying.
Reddit – Reddit is almost totally anonymous. Users can choose their user name, but the number of non-famous people using their real name in very small. Reddit has been around since 2005, and has 115 million monthly users spread across 190 countries. Reddit content is organized in categories, called subreddits. If your teen is interested in video games, you’ll probably find him browsing r/gaming, r/minecraft or r/leagueoflegends. Many other niche interests are served by Reddit categories. Reddit users who either post or comment need to have a thick skin, because cyberbullying is a very frequent occurrence.
Recommendation – Teens possessing both the maturity to avoid the adult content, and the self-assuredness to ignore the trolls might find that the good outweighs the bad on Reddit. Tread carefully.
4chan – Since user registration is not required or permitted on 4chan, nobody seems to know how many users they have, but it is definitely in the millions. The founder of 4chan is a big advocate of both free speech and the right to be anonymous, and as such 4chan almost no rules, and has some of the most reprehensible content, comments and vicious trolls on the internet. As with Reddit, though, some of the content, also arranged by subcategory, can be very valuable and esoteric.
Recommendation – We have no problem whatsoever recommending that teens avoid 4chan.
Yik Yak – Anonymous message board Yik Yak serves as a news feed for all users within a 1.5 mile radius. The company claims that it is intended for college students (18 year-old age limit!) but every week there are reports of bomb threats and harassment at high schools. Yik Yak doesn’t disclose its number of users, but claims to have active communities at over 250 colleges in the U.S. Yik Yak does quickly comply with the police in the event of threats, and has claimed to block the app at most high schools, though this does not appear to be an effective solution. Cyberbullying, teacher bashing and confessions about drug and alcohol use are frequent.
Recommendation – Parents with a smartphone and 5 minutes to spare should check out Yik Yak for themselves. This app is not for teens, and wreaks havoc at high schools.
Tinder – Tinder (10 million daily users) is rapidly replacing online dating for the younger, racier crowd – it is a hookup app. It might be positioned as a “find friends” or dating app, but it isn’t really being used that way, and yes, you are anonymous on Tinder until you decide to meet up with someone. It is also used by predators, as was highlighted in a number of cases recently.
Recommendation – This app is not for teens.
Whisper – The Whisper app is a location and image-based confession app. All users are anonymous, but users can reply to others’ posts, which can lead to contact via other messaging platform or in real life. Whisper does a very good job of monitoring and taking down bullying posts and nudity, but some adult content is permitted. It has been reported recently that Whisper tracks user location even when users turn the GPS feature off, and just a quick look at the posts on there reveal that some users are prone to self harm, including cutting and eating disorders. Predator risk is also an issue.
Recommendation – If your teen is looking to get things off his/her chest, Whisper isn’t the worst option. Teens should use it with caution, though, and parents should be aware of why they are drawn to it.
Secret – In the words of the NY Times, “Cyberbullying is bad enough when you know who is doing the bullying.” Secret connects to your phone’s address book, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and allows users to send anonymous messages. Obviously this app can used in a very negative way, including cyberbullying.
Recommendation – While Secret has reportedly been working on better safety protocols, the risks outweigh the benefits, if there are any. We say no.
Truth – Truth is an anonymous messaging app designed to allow users to send secret text, photo and video messages to anyone in their cellphone address book who is also a Truth user. While Truth is used by teens to stalk romantic interests and in some isolated cases for targeted cyberbullying, it’s neither the worst nor one of the most popular anonymous apps out there.
Recommendation – While not the worst, there is no good reason for teens to be using Truth. We’d avoid it.
Studies have shown, not surprisingly, that anonymity enables a number of negative behaviors, particularly in teens. With anonymous apps, if your teen is being cyberbullied, you need to be aware of it to help. If your teen is doing the bullying, or engaging in other inappropriate or illegal acts, by the time the school or police get involved, it may be too late. Do your family a favor and talk to your teens about what apps are on his phone, and why.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.