Beyond Facebook – popular apps your tweens and teens now use Pt 2

In our last post we started looking at the top apps that tweens and teens are using for online social interaction now that all their parents are on Facebook. Last time we looked at iMessage and Kik, the two most popular instant messaging services of the moment. In this post we’ll take a closer look at photo sharing site ‘Instagram’, and the infamous exploding message provider ‘Snapchat’.

Instagram

InstagramInstagram is primarily a photo sharing site. Users can take a photo from within the app, apply one of many different filters to it, and then share it with their friends or the wider world. Instagram exploded in popularity a number of years ago on the back of the filters users could apply to their photos. Remember your old family photos from the 70s – square shaped and slightly faded? You can use the filters in Instagram to make your photos look like they’ve jumped right out of one of those old albums.  Or you can get very arty by applying the filters to enhance those ‘interesting’ shots you may have captured that you secretly think are quality art works. You can also put ‘hashtags’ on your photos so they can be found by other people that share your interests. For example, searching ‘#cats’ on Instagram will give you millions of photos of people’s cats.

Recently I had a friend travel over to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and send me some amazing images of what he was seeing and doing over there. The true power of social media apps like Instagram is that I can search ‘#Sochi’ and see photos not just from my friends, but from everyone who was at the Olympics using the app, including the athletes themselves.

It must be said though, ‘arty’ or ‘retro’ photos, or even searching up events by hashtags, are not really what our teens or tweens are up to on Instagram. Their world revolves around communicating via posting comments under the photos that are put up on the site. In this way, much like with the messaging apps in our last post, the original purpose of the app has been twisted by kids to the point where it has basically become a chat room facilitator.

Because the comments under the photos are the most important thing, anything and everything could be a subject for an Instagram photo. Photos can range from pics of pet cats and dogs, to ‘selfies’ – a term which describes a person trying to pose to look as good as possible while taking a picture of themselves. Once that photo is posted, the comments can begin. The comments that continue on under these photos become the social hub of the site. Its important to tweens and teens that photos get ‘liked’ or commented on by their ‘friends’ (or anyone else) and in fairly quick time. The more attention a post gets the better they feel. This is part of their social acceptance ritual. A little like when we were in Primary school and we dreaded being the last kid chosen by the captains picking out teams for footy at lunch time. You’ve nominated yourself for the game, if no one wants you on their team it’s an embarrassing experience.

Kids often use Instagram to ‘advertise’ their messaging usernames for more ‘private’ chats. They may post a ‘selfie’ and say ‘Kik me @___’ (see previous post about this) or something similar. Many kids are just keen for anyone to take notice and chat to them, which isn’t the safest state of affairs, particularly if their account isn’t set to private and each of their photos is geotagged so that everyone knows exactly where they are (see below).

Like most social media sites, things can get very nasty very quickly. We’ve seen groups of users gang up to single out and abuse a particular child. We’ve also seen more subtle negativity, such as ‘cooler’ kids placing comments that tell ‘less cool’ kids to stop commenting on their photos. This sort of snub in such a public space can be socially devastating.

More generally, I’ve found the language and subject matter on Instragram to be shocking to parents. It doesn’t matter how ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ a parent considers themselves, they are universally shocked and disgusted when I’ve shown them some of the conversations their child has taken part in or at the very least been a witness to.

As mentioned above, Instagram tags all your photos with geolocation information, which is really important to know about. This means that everyone can see exactly where and when each photo was taken. This is called ‘geotagging’, and there is a post dedicated just to that topic here.

Instagram states that it is restricted to children over the age of 13.

Snapchat

Snapchat is a messasnap chatging site with a key difference which has made it hugely popular with kids. When sending a message or photo to someone on Snapchat, you can choose how long the message exists once they receive it. A bit like the old ‘self-destructing message’ in the Mission Impossible series, the person you send the message to will only have it in front of them for the amount of time you set, and then it will explode in front of them.

In an age where kids are becoming all to aware that what they post online can stay there and haunt them forever after, Snapchat must feel like a great alternative to kids where the user is in control of who can see what they post and how long they can see it for. Or so it seems.

Sending exploding messages is fun, so that kids at about a year 5 or 6 age often refer to it as ‘playing on Snapchat’. However, the false security of a message that explodes in between 1 and 10 seconds has meant that the app has become the forum for many ‘dare’ related games, or pictures/text being sent that otherwise wouldn’t. And in the end, the user that receives the picture can screen shot it on their phone, or take a picture of their screen with another device, and therefore have the picture in their possession long after it explodes.

Snapchat will often be used with another app. For example, two kids may carry a conversation on using iMessage, and at the same time be sending photos via Snapchat. One might say to the other ‘I dare you to write “I love Dave” on your hand and take a photo’. Innocent and childish enough, although we’ve seen dares very quickly move to things like a boy saying to a girl ‘I dare you to take your top off and sit there for 5 minutes and send photos as proof’. These type of dares have led to parents of children involving the police, and when this happens anyone in possession of these types of photos can be charged with child pornography offenses.

Unfortunately these types of events are not rare, in fact, quite the opposite.

Snapchat is another app that specifically states that it is only for users 13 or over and we strongly recommend that parents of our students at Kalinda prohibit its use.