SARASOTA, Fla. (WAFB) - In 2018, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in Florida made national headlines after releasing a list of nine apps that predators could be manipulating to solicit children to commit sexual acts. The sheriff’s office released an updated list on July 26, 2019.
- Meetme: Meetme is a dating social media app that allows users to connect with people based on geographic proximity. The app’s users are encouraged to meet each other in person.
- Grindr: Grindr is dating app is geared toward gay, bi and transgender people. It gives users options to chat, share photos and meet up based on a smart phone’s GPS.
- Skout: Skout is a location-based dating app. While users under 17 years old are unable to share private photos, kids can easily create an account with an older age.
- Whatsapp: Whatsapp is a popular messaging app that allows users to send texts, photos, voicemails, as well as make calls and video chats.
- Tiktok: Tiktok is a new app popular with kids that’s used for creating and sharing short videos. With very limited privacy controls, users are vulnerable ot cyber bullying and explicit content.
- Badoo: Badoo is a dating and social networking app where users can chat, share photos and videos based on location. The app is intended for adults only, but teens are known to create profiles.
- Bumble: Bumble is similar to the popular dating app, Tinder, however, it requires women to make the first contact. Kids have been known to use Bumble to create fake accounts and falsify their age.
- Snapchat: Snapchat is one of the most popular apps of 2018. While the app promises users can send a photo or video and it will disappear, recent features allow users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat also allows users to see your location.
- Kik: Kik allows anyone to contact and direct message your child, sometimes anonymously. Kids sometimes use Kik to bypass traditional text messaging features. Kik gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
- LiveMe: Live.me is a live-streaming video app uses geolocation to share videos so users can find out a broadcaster’s exact location. Users can earn coins within the app and use them as a way to pay minors for photos.
- Holla: Holla is a self-proclaimed “addicting” video chat app that allows users to meet people all over the world in just seconds. Reviewers say they have been confronted with racial slurs, explicit content, and more.
- Whisper: Whisper is an anonymous social network that promotes sharing secrets with strangers. It also reveals a user’s location so people can meet up.
- Ask.fm: Ask.fm has become known for cyberbullying. The app encourages users to allow people to anonymously ask them questions.
- Calculator%: Calculator% is one of several secret apps used to hide photos, videos, files, and browser history.
- Hot or Not: Hot or Not encourages users to rate other users’ profiles, with the focus on physical appearance. It also allows users to check out people in their area and chat with strangers. The sheriff says the goal of this app is to “hook up.”
In an effort to combat the potentially devastating impacts from children using these apps without giving consideration to the possible threat they pose, the Gretna Police Department put together tips gathered from experts and governmental agencies that parents and friends can reference when speaking with minors about building and maintaining safe internet and social media habits.
1.) Ask about what the kid is seeing online and how it makes them feel. Talk about any concerns they have about their own online activity, others’ activity, or content they’ve seen on the internet
2.) Set filters and other protection measures on phones, computers, and tablets to help screen content coming in and out
3.) Limit screen hours in general. Studies show that excessive screen time can lead to higher rates of obesity and emotional issues in children
4.) Be a good role model. Maintain healthy social media and internet habits yourself
5.) Remind kids that anything done online may be available to others
6.) Set privacy settings on social media and apps to the strictest level possible on devices young kids use
7.) Keep personal computers in a central location in your home where it can be easily determined if they’ve been used
8.) Review and approve apps downloaded to smartphones and monitor activity on those devices
9.) Ensure an adult is present and engaged when children communicate via webcam
10.) Regularly go through “friends” and “followers” lists and delete anyone that the child has not met in person
Additionally, parents are encouraged to attend classes where kids can directly interact with law enforcement and ask any lingering questions they may have. An example of such a class is the Good and Bad of Social Media event held by the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies with the sheriff’s office advised incoming freshmen at Assumption Parish schools about the advantages and dangers of social media using cases they’re been directly involved in. Reach out to your local law enforcement to request a similar class.