How Kids Can Be Safe on Social Media

Recently, I have become very interested, even concerned, with how social media may be used or more precisely, misused, by our children.

Our daughter will be turning eight next month and she’s already pretty good at navigating the web. That makes me a little proud, but also a little worried.

When my wife’s cell phone was recently upgraded, we gave our daughter the old one. It doesn’t work as a phone, but she can still access the internet via our WiFi service.

In the past week or so, she has come across two cases of inappropriate content using Google, despite me having set the filters to maximum on the phone. Fortunately, our daughter is already mature enough to handle it.

The app that kids use that has me the most concerned is Snapchat. It sure sounds innocent enough – even cool: being able to use your phone to take images and short videos, enhance them with some text and send them to someone. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

The way that the app is designed, the images should stay on the recipient’s screen for no longer than 10 seconds. After that, they should disappear from both the recipient’s phone and from Snapchat’s servers. Sounds like fun, right? What can go wrong? Plenty!

The nature of the platform can encourage users to send inappropriate images to people. Add to that the fact that Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social media platforms around, with up to 200 million users; almost one in five iPhones has the app installed on it, according to The Guardian. One estimate that I saw believes that half of their users are teenagers. While it is not as widely used as Facebook on smart phones, it is gaining ground fast and may soon pass Twitter in popularity.

The other day, my wife called me to watch the television when she saw a story on our local news station Fox 29. Drexel University Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice Rob D’Ovidio talked about Snapchat:

“So we’ve seen teenagers use Snapchat to send sexually explicit images back and forth to boyfriend or girlfriend, people that you may be romantically interested in… and those pictures have a way of getting out there.”

Professor D’Ovidio is right to be concerned. While the images are designed to disappear from the phone within seconds, the images are actually retrievable by anyone using a forensic program. Even without those programs, it is possible to save images sent to a phone. I personally use a Samsung Galaxy SIII and if someone were to send me a picture using Snapchat, here’s all I would need to do to save that image.

While researching this article, I found out that you wouldn’t even need forensic programs or even know how to take a screen shot of your cell phone to preserve the images sent via Snapchat. That is because of an app called SnapCapture for Snapchat. This is a new app, released last month, that’s been downloaded 500,000 times.

SnapCapture is the most popular solution for easy snapchat saving. It just takes one click to save all the unopened snapchats in your inbox permanently on your device.

The Risks

Have you ever seen the movie, Cruel Intentions, starring Ryan Phillippe? In the beginning of the movie, his character tricks a teenage girl into posing for racy pictures and he releases them across the internet, mainly as a way to upset the girl’s mother, who just happens to be his therapist. Despite being one of my favorite movies, I imagine how I would feel if anything like that ever happened to our daughter.

One of the least known risks associated with smart phones is their ability to encode GPS data within the image file; known as Geotagging. On the positive side, it helps photographers, bloggers and social media users in a variety of ways. On the negative side, it is not difficult for predators to use geotagging as a means to trace the image back to where it was taken – perhaps back to your own home.

Bottom Line

I realize that most of the people using social media, including Snapchat and SnapCapture are doing so innocently. However, the risks are clearly there and should not be ignored or underestimated.

This area has struck a chord with me. To that end, I’ve recently started a new Facebook page called Parents Guide to Social Media where I post news, tips, etc. that parents can use to learn more about kids and social media. I also created an e-newspaper using to share related content from additional sources. Social Media is not a bad thing, but like many things, it can be misused or even abused with disastrous results. Every responsible parent needs to be aware of what’s going on and make sure that their kids are protected.

Joe Yeager is a marketing analyst and social media administrator for a leading B2B manufacturer in the professional dental market. He is also a freelance writer and adjunct faculty member. Please follow him at @JosephMYeager.