This blog post is an excerpt from our Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles.
What are the top apps students should (or shouldn’t) be on?
What follows is an overview of our professional advice about these apps, but it isn’t a comprehensive list. The rest are all available on our parent app guide at SafeSmartSocial. We give all of our content away for free. We don’t believe any parent should ever have to pay to learn how to keep their kids safe online. Schools are seeing the value as well and regularly contact us to come out and talk to their students and parents in person. What we often hear is, “We can’t afford not to bring you to our school.”
When should my child be public on social media?
The age of 14-15 is a great time for your family to have a discussion about when your teen should eventually make their profiles more public. That way, by the time your teen is 15, your student can consider dipping their toe in the water and posting some positive images, such as photos related to volunteer work on appropriate social media sites. It’s a great first step to prepare you for what happens when kids turn 16 or 17 and colleges, internship supervisors and future employers start looking at applicants’ online profiles and trying to get a better idea of who they are. If their profile is public, people who will be making admissions or hiring decisions will more easily find your son or daughter—and they’re less likely to confuse them with others with a similar name (and maybe even a less-than-stellar reputation, creating precisely the confusion you want to avoid).
What top apps should students be on?
The next, incredibly important question that we’re often asked is this: What top apps should students be on? My staff spends considerable time researching the most popular apps, and we find out which are good, “medium” or actually bad for your kids. This information is always prominently displayed on our site because I feel so strongly about learning and teaching others about the difference between good and bad teen apps. When you click on the button (“Learn more about good and bad teen apps”), you’ll find easy-to-understand information that walks you through how you can be an expert on on every one of these teen apps.
“The Green Zone Apps”
Colleges want and sometimes expect to find your students on these networks.
When parents and educators are ready for their students to be online, the green zone apps are the ones we feel comfortable recommending. Posts on these apps can be discovered by Google, including the ones that highlight positive aspects of your student’s efforts and achievements in school and in the community. That makes these good apps not only safe but productive—because this is the information that you want colleges and potential employers to discover. They’re also tied to your student’s real identity—as opposed to letting users remain anonymous—so these apps also tend to encourage online behavior kids will be proud to have others discover (including, yes, their parents).
Facebook is the first app in our Green Zone.
Facebook is the first app in our Green Zone. Many of us know how Facebook works. You can post from a mobile device, you can post from a desktop, and Google can pick it up on the desktop to positively or negatively impact your Google search results. Facebook is based in the U.S., which is very important to note. It also has an ad network, which makes its profit source transparent. It’s not going to quickly shift and use data in a different way. I will explain what that means in a moment. Also included with Facebook is its messaging app, Facebook Messenger.
Since Facebook bought Instagram, they added a lot of safety features.
Instagram is an app that is mostly mobile. You can only post to it from a mobile device, but you can view it on a desktop. Google can pick it up, and it can positively or negatively impact your Google results.
Instagram is now owned by Facebook, which means it shares positive safety features that Facebook has built in, including making it a little bit easier to monitor people. I’m not saying they are great, but they help make these apps the lesser evil than some others we’re about to show you.
LinkedIn gets a student thinking about their positive accomplishments.
“Josh, are you saying my teenager should be on LinkedIn?” Yes, eventually. LinkedIn gets a student thinking about their positive accomplishments, how to do great things that tell a great story and put them online. LinkedIn hides any student’s identity and picture when they are under 18 years old, but it gets them thinking beyond Snapchatting to consider what they can be doing in real life to contribute and then tell their story in an authentic way.
Pinning your interests is what it stands for, so users can find and save ideas they like. It can be a great source of inspiration for studying tips, DIY’s and more. Pinterest can positively and negatively impact your Google results, and like every other app, the choices you make – in this case, the types of things you “pin” – matter. Kids need to keep it positive.
Twitter allows you to send messages up to 140 characters in length as well as pictures or video You can share them from your desktop and your mobile device. It is based in the U.S., and like Facebook, they have an ad network that brings in revenue (and again, knowing a company’s revenue source is important). Twitter as many of us know, is just starting to test all kinds of new media. This is a great app for students to share their thoughts and feelings. However, kids must also be aware that anyone can view what is posted if their account is public.
YouTube is owned by Google and it positively impacts a student’s image with a little bit of work.
However, YouTube can be very bad for students 13 and younger. It can have be worse than HBO late at night. At the same time, our video about YouTube shows that YouTube is owned by Google and it positively impacts a student’s image with a little bit of work. A student can teach something on YouTube, learn anything that they want on YouTube, etc. We have a great example of this with Jamie, our 16-year-old intern in our office, who used the online sphere to her advantage. We looked at her Google results, and she had nothing online. But she wanted to apply to the very best schools. We found out that even though Jeanie is Caucasian, Jewish and a redhead, she speaks, reads, and writes Mandarin. So we shot videos of her teaching Mandarin with her parents’ approval and her approval. When you Google Jamie now, you get this awesome library of her teaching Mandarin. Guess what? When she was searched by her dream school, the NYU Overseas school in Shanghai, she got accepted. They saw her teaching and helping others in the very craft that she wants to pursue, which is to teach speaking, reading, and writing in Mandarin for businesses. (We have a great video of all this on our site.)
“The Gray Zone Apps”
There is no one app that is going to protect your kids. It really comes back to the dialog.
Gray Zone apps can be good and bad for your teens and tweens—and in some cases, you just have to decide whether your student has the maturity at this point to use these apps wisely. But they also provide an opportunity to start having important conversations with your teen about sexting and inappropriate content. (It’s sort of like a movie rating; your kids can see or have these apps if you allow it, but parental guidance is advised.)
- SMS Texting
- Vine App
Periscope is in the gray zone because if you are underage and watching it, it can be very scary.
Periscope is an app that allows you to live broadcast mobile video from anywhere on your phone. Now, consider all of these people with live broadcasting mobile video. Do you think there are other people watching these videos to make sure that they are child-friendly? No, because they are all over the world.
Periscope is backed by Twitter, which helps a little bit, but we can safely say that your teen or student is better off on YouTube to actually learn valuable things and watch videos that have been produced and rated.
When you give your kids a mobile device, they get the opportunity to start using SMS Texting. Android, Microsoft, Apple, etc. We have a whole video that compares SMS to Facebook Messenger to Kik Messenger to WhatsApp.
When a student sees an app that makes a claim, they are inclined to believe it over their parents.
Snapchat is a messaging service that allows people to send short videos and SMS. One thing you need to know about Snapchat is how it markets to your kids.
Snapchat says, “Hey kids, we are a free app that you can download on any mobile device—your iPhone, Windows phone, Android, tablet, etc. We are 100% free, and with our app you can take a picture or a video. You can add squiggly lines, images, text and all of these neat things and send it to one or 100 friends, post it on your wall, and for free your friends can view it. We promise that after they view it, your silly video or picture will go ‘poof’ and disappear.”
Now, do we as adults believe that? No. But do your kids and your students sometimes believe that? Yeah. They don’t have the life experience to be skeptical about the claims made by Snapchat.
The truth is that there are a number of ways these silly posts – which are usually harmless but can veer into dangerous territory due to peer pressure or just that promise that all posts are fleeting – actually can be saved or even reposted on other sites. These are just a couple of reasons we keep Snapchat squarely in the gray zone.
On Vine there is a lot of crude humor, which makes it way more interesting to students.
The Vine App allows you to shoot and post up to 6 to 6.5 seconds of video. You might ask, “Josh, what can you do in six and a half seconds? This sounds ridiculous.” I always say, “Look at the Super Bowl, where brands are paying $1 to $10 million for a 15-second ad.” If you can tell a whole story in a 10 to 15-second ad on Superbowl Sunday then you can do the same thing on Vine. And here’s how they do it.
Students will shoot a bunch of little clips and then edit them together into short segments that tell a whole story. At the end of a Vine video, it loops, and as it loops you get to see the little parts and the intricacies. Also, on Vine there is a lot of crude humor, which makes it way more interesting to students who are trying to get more loops, more likes, more re-Vines, and so on. The Vine App is very, very popular. So many students use it that there are now Vine celebrities. And when we host our Digital Best Practices conference for companies, some Vine celebrities come here, and they have millions of followers. Brands throw money at them, and so your students see that and they say, “Wow, I want to do that too.” So you have to be careful. Vine is definitely a big player in the market.
We put WhatsApp in the gray zone because you are going to want to know what your students are doing on there.
WhatsApp is an app that allows you to bypass text messaging so that you can use Wi-Fi or any device to send a message to anybody else who has WhatsApp. The nice thing about WhatsApp is that it uses your phone number as a username and requires you to verify your identity with a text message. It’s hard for predators to burn through a bunch of cell phone numbers, because cell phone numbers are tied to your credit card.
WhatsApp is based in the U.S. and is owned by Facebook — which is no longer a company so much as a family of apps. They have the Facebook app, the Facebook Messenger app, WhatsApp, and Instagram. The nice thing about having a whole family of apps is that they are putting a lot of safety features in there. Now, is the Internet safe? No. But is this the lesser of the three evils? Perhaps.
We put WhatsApp in the gray zone because you are going to want to know what your students are doing on there. If they are messaging anyone they do not know, it could go very, very badly. Check out our Facebook, WhatsApp, SMS & Kik Messenger App Comparison. It walks you through WhatsApp, Kik Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and text. It lets you decide which one you as an educator or a parent want to use with your kids.
“The Red Zone Apps”
These are the apps that we do not recommend for teens and tweens. These apps usually have inappropriate—almost always—content and it is often unmonitored. Also, they lend themselves to cyberbullying and predators. Often these apps are non-disciplined and encourage students to behave in a way that we have never seen before. When students use these apps in anonymous mode without it being tied to their real identity, they tend to behave badly. These apps are also more prone to bullying and predators.
- AfterSchool App
- Burn Book App
- Calculator Private Photo App
- Kik Messenger
- Ogle App
- Omegle App
- ooVoo App
- Slingshot App
- StreetChat App
- Whisper App
- Wishbone App
- YikYak App
- YouNow App
The AfterSchool app has been removed twice from the App Store because of threats and arrests.
AfterSchool App is an anonymous app that creates a separate chat group for every school. It has been removed twice from the App Store because of threats and arrests. Messages often include bullying, pornography, or alcohol and drug references.
If you find that your students are on this, please lean on us and use our free video. It describes the way it is marketed to your students, how the app behaves, what your students like about it, and what you should know and do as parents. We answer every one of those questions.
Nothing good happens on Ask.fm.
This is a very, very bad app. Ask.fm was recently purchased by Ask.com, but this does not mean that the app has become any safe. Ask.fm. is a social networking website where people can ask questions, with the option of being anonymous. Nothing good happens on this app. Kids often reveal too much personal information on this site, and cyberbullying is very prevalent.
The Burn Book App gamifies you hurting other people’s feelings.
Burn Book swept the nation about a year ago. BurnBook is an anonymous app for posting text, photos, and audio rumor messages about others. This app compiles messages by school, so it requires access to your location and encourages students to screenshot the rumors and save them to their phone. Let me repeat that. This app gives you points for screenshooting and saving the rumors that people post about others. It gamifies you hurting other people’s feelings. You decide if that is a good thing. it is in our red zone. Nothing good ever happens from that.
The “Private Photo (Calculator%) app” is designed to help students hide photos and videos.
The “Private Photo (Calculator%) app” is designed to help students hide photos and videos behind an innocent looking calculator app. It says “age 4+,” but do not trust that. This application looks like a calculator, but entering a passcode opens a private area. This app has no redeeming qualities (not even as a calculator).
Kik Messenger makes it very difficult to discern who is a predator and who is real.
Now we are going to look at the worst of the four messenger apps, Kik Messenger. Kik allows anyone on the app to contact your child and directly message them. It has been known to allow adults to communicate with pre-teens, and it is very difficult to discern who is a predator and who is real. Some adults have been known to use this app to pretend like they are tweens and teens. Kik allows students to bypass text messaging features of their phone. Users can connect with anyone on the network and aren’t limited to their phone’s contact list.
Kik has robots built into it. They didn’t design it, but other people have figured out how to test usernames and say, “Hey, are you there?” I downloaded this to test it. I have no fewer than 80 requests. Only one person in the world has my username because it is someone I work with in Canada who helps me with my “Light, Bright & Polite” book. Yet now I have 80 requests that say, “Hey are you there right now? Are you up? Are you home?” With phishing, they have found me somehow. Even as an adult, I was slightly confused. I thought maybe it locked into one of my calendar apps and — I don’t know. If I, the social media safety guy, am confused, do you think your students are going to be confused? Tremendously. When I speak to younger students, they go, “Yeah, how did you know? My parents don’t know. There are all of these weird people that are adding me.” This is a very bad app.
Since there is little formal registration predators can easily masquerade as friends on the Ogle App.
Ogle is an anonymous app that automatically searches your location for nearby schools when downloaded. View and interact with school feeds, engage on any campuses content, and share or ask anything anonymously. Since there is little formal registration, bullies and predators can easily masquerade as students and friends. Very creepy.
Omegle is an anonymous text and video chat room that connects strangers to talk with each other.
Omegle is an anonymous text and video chat room that connects strangers to talk with each other. The app allows you to share personal information and also contains inappropriate and unmoderated content. They say this is 18+, but guess what? Your student at the age of 12+ can still download it, right? Students are really good at getting around these restrictions. The age restriction is irrelevant in our view, because we don’t recommend it for anyone at all, at any age.
Parents should be aware that ooVoo is used by predators to contact underage kids.
ooVoo App is one of the world’s largest video and messaging apps. Parents should be aware that ooVoo is used by predators to contact underage kids. The app can allow users to video chat with up to 12 people at a time. ooVoo is one of the most popular teen apps ever. Students all over the country hate me because I tell their parents that it is a bad app.
Slingshot has a sister app that we are going to look at in a moment. They are both in the red zone. Slingshot is marketed to boys and allows users create polls and vote on things. Slingshot users can create any type of poll, including plenty that are not appropriate for teens. This app is popular with students, and the comment section is used for bullying.
StreetChat is a live photo-sharing board designed for middle school, high school, and college students. Kids feel more freedom to send mean posts because they do not have to confirm their identity within the app. This leads to students often posting about real people.
How many of us have heard of Tumblr? Tumblr is one of the world’s most popular blogging platforms. Users tend not to use their real name. Bottom line of Tumblr is that their terms of services say, “We are okay with pornographic material.” If your students sit in front of Tumblr and use its search engine, inappropriate stuff comes up all the time, and Tumblr is okay with that.
WhatsGoodly is an anonymous, location-based, social polling application designed for college students. It has a 17+ age restriction, but younger students can still see polls and vote. There are a lot of questions about dating, relationships, alcohol, and smoking on the app. Any of us heard of WhatsGoodly?
How many of us have heard of this? Okay. Two-thirds of the room. Whisper is an anonymous social network, but it does reveal a user’s location, which makes it easy for people to arrange a meet up. Let me repeat: It reveals a user’s location, which makes it easy for people to arrange a meet up. It also makes it easier for predators to locate and connect with users. Whisper, a very bad one, and old-school, too. It’s been around for quite a while.
The sister app to Slingshot, the Wishbone app is a comparison app marketed to girls that allows users to create or vote in polls. Wishbone users can create any type of poll, including polls that are not appropriate for teens. Here is the problem with these teen apps: People say, “Oh Josh, it’s simple. It’s just polls.” But it’s not just polls. They put advertising that you cannot get out of; the advertising is very inappropriate, and you have to watch it for 15-30 seconds. Not at all age appropriate for teenagers.
Yik Yak acts like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users in your area. The app is popular with high school students, and it is used for all kinds of nasty things, including angry venting and ugly rumors. It is also often used for making bomb threats or threatening other people.
YouNow is a popular broadcasting platform where kids watch and stream real-time videos. Users decide whether broadcasters should continue with their live videos with thumbs up and thumbs down voting. When you gamify an app that is anonymous, do you think that users will then want to do even wilder things in order to get a thumbs up? The answer is yes. It is not tied to users’ real identity.
Footprint Friday allows you to monitor students online in a safe way and it starts a dialogue with your students.
That’s the rundown. We’ve touched on a lot of teen apps, and it’s a lot of information to absorb. But no, there is no quiz at the end. Full descriptions and videos about these apps are always available for free on our website Safe, Smart & Social. In the meantime, I’d like to let you know about another tool you can register for on our site that parents have found incredible helpful: Footprint Friday. This is a feature that allows you to monitor students online in a safe way, and it starts a dialogue with your students. It is 100% free. We dedicate a lot of time to keeping up with these things to make it as easy as possible for parents, teachers and other concerned adults to have the information they need and want about kids and social media, so we invite you to lean on us as a source of information. Because, trust me — these technologies aren’t going away, and we want kids and students to make the most of their positive potential while minimizing the dangers, and most of all, we want to encourage conversations. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.