A parents’ guide to the social networks your kids are using. Keeping up with what the kids are up to online can be confusing, so here is a guide to the current most popular social networks to help you understand what your children are doing online.
What is it? Snapchat is a photo messaging app with a twist – users can take photos, record video and add text and drawings then send them to people. These ‘Snaps’ aren’t saved by default so it feels like you are socialising without leaving a trail behind you. Once the Snap has been viewed, the Snapchat system will auto-delete it. Users can post a ‘story’ on Snapchat too which is a Snap that anyone can view and will delete 24 hours after it has uploaded, so viewers could see the Snap more than once within the 24 hour period. People over the age of 13 are allowed to use Snapchat with 13-17 year olds requiring permission from their parent or guardian, however this doesn’t stop under 13’s creating accounts. If Snapchat obtains knowledge that a user is under 13 they will terminate their account.
How to use it? Users find their friends in Snapchat and add them to be able to Snapchat with them. You can go through your phone contacts to see who else has Snapchat and if one of your contacts doesn’t have it you can invite them by SMS. If you don’t want to be found on Snapchat tap the ghost icon then tap the gear icon in the upper right corner. Tap ‘Mobile Number’ and untick ‘Allow my friends to find me’ to unlink your phone number. Users like Snapchat as you can send photos and videos for free over the wifi, whereas sending a photo message by text will cost money.
Warning: Snapchat may feel safe to use as any images or messages sent are deleted once they have been seen, however this doesn’t stop the receiver of a message from taking a screenshot of it on their phone locally before it deletes. The best way to keep your kids safe using Snapchat is to educate them that nothing ever really goes away on the internet and to never share anything on Snapchat that they would be embarrassed for you to see. Or do the ‘Grandma’ test: Ask themselves, “Would Grandma be proud if she saw this Snap?” It gives them pause for thought before they send anything they might regret.
Snapchat is about sharing moments and having fun, they encourage self-expression but don’t tolerate Snaps that share nudity, pornography or sexually suggestive images involving people under 18; young people engaged in physically dangerous and harmful activities; invasions of privacy or impersonations; threats harassment, bullying or self harm. To report a Snap that is against these rules, you can use this link: Report inappropriate content
Facebook allows users to share status updates, photos, videos and games with people they are connected to and interact with them. Facebook users must be over 13. It is important that teenagers using Facebook use their real date of birth when creating the account as Facebook has some extra layers of safety and privacy features for users aged 13-18 to further protect them. Users over 18 can change their privacy settings manually and decide whether to make their posts public or friends only for example, but new users aged 13-18 will have a default privacy setting for sharing content with ‘friends’ only.
Many adults have come away from Facebook from time to time if it has complicated or taken over too much of their lives; having an online social life can be a big responsibility so it’s important to judge whether your child is mature enough to be able to handle the complexities of these social negotiations. Group dynamics, jockeying for status and online romance are complex for adults to master, so an awareness of what is going on for your child on Facebook is advisable. Giving permission for them to have Facebook but a condition of this permission is that they have you as a contact is one way to keep an eye on things.
Instagram is an app that allows the user to share photos and videos taken with their mobile phone with anyone who follows them. You can set an account to private which restricts viewing of your photos to people who you have approved to follow you and you can choose to block individuals if you choose so they cannot see your profile or posts.
Instagram uses pictures as the main medium to communicate (with the ability to add words) which is different to Facebook or Twitter which are usually word led but with the ability to add pictures. This subtle but important distinction means that generally the Instagram environment can be a very happy place, as users can relate to photos in different ways. The ability to ‘read into’ a photo what you will leaves more room for interpretation, as opposed to a written status update where language communicates the feeling or meaning. Instagram can be more personal as you are visually showing what is going on for you at the time or most important to you, here is a recent post I wrote about the Instagram way of life
Your followers tend to ‘like’ your photo and/ or add a comment but discussion rarely takes place unlike sites like Facebook. The main annoyance on Instagram is unwanted comments (for example spam comments) and the way to delete any comments is to tap on the comment speech bubble under the photo then swipe to the left over any comment you wish to delete. Then tap and choose if you want to ‘delete’ or ‘delete and report abuse’.
This is a fast moving network where you can broadcast your thoughts / status update in 140 characters or less, add a photo and engage in conversations with people who you follow or who follow you. It is also increasingly a place for breaking news and real time reporting on an event which needs disaster management, for example people in earthquakes have live tweeted where they are and also people trapped by floods. This is done by following a dedicated hashtag (#). It is important to note that people tweeting about events are not experts, but real people and that judgement should be used when deciding how much importance to place on things that people on Twitter may say, but credible sources (for example the BBC) are seen as a trusted source of information.
Most of the time Twitter is used for live status updates, chat and sharing links. Businesses have seen the potential of Twitter for brand awareness and you can often find ‘Twitter Parties’ taking place on the platform where a group of people come together virtually at a particular date and time, and connect around a particular hashtag. Twitter can add longevity to a marketing campaign as Tweets and the hashtag are often Tweeted out long after the event, but this is a factor to note around kids’ use of Twitter too. If someone decides to create an offensive hashtag and it gains traction (which is easy to do on Twitter) others could join the bandwagon without realising what this hashtag is about. Cyberbullying is something to be aware of whenever children are on the internet, but it could very quickly spread on a network like Twitter. You can delete comments and block users and if you need to report something you can do this very easily by using the ‘Report’ dropdown menu which is found in the “…” button which is next to the ‘Favourite’ star. Cyberbullying is now more common than face-to-face bullying among 9-16 year olds (Source: EU Kids Online 2014).
Having conversations about what young people are doing online is part of modern parenting. Don’t just leave them to it because you are not sure about the different online tools they use.
For more e-safety tips and about my visit to the Child Internet Safety Summit, read Keeping Our Kids Safe Online