If you’re a parent, you will no doubt be aware of the dangers of giving your child unfettered access to the web. Whether it’s adult entertainment, gore, or gambling, there’s a near-endless number of sites that your children shouldn’t be seeing.
Even stuff that appears innocent can still be a minefield; the new YouTube Kids app was recently criticized for letting unsuitable content leak through its filters.
In December 2017, the BBC uncovered another shocking story. Sites such as Omegle and Periscope (which kids often use for live streaming) are being used by groomers and pedophiles in attempt to lure the unsuspecting children.
In light of this news, we’re going to take a look at six seemingly-innocent sites that every parent needs to add to their block list today.
Live streaming sites are incredibly popular right now — and perhaps none more so than Periscope. It has 1.9 million active daily users, has streamed more than 200 million broadcasts, and sees 350,000 hours of footage recorded every day.
It’s particularly popular among young adults and teenagers. Indeed, 32 percent of its userbase is 21 years old or younger.
In mid-2017, a BBC investigation found children as young as nine were being groomed on the service. In a video on the BBC site, there’s a chilling exchange as a groomer encourages a young teen to show off her skirt and remove her top. The person even offers to pay money in exchange for a “show.”
Bottom Line: Yes, we know blocking Periscope will go down like a lead balloon, but an angry kid is better than a groomed kid.
2. After School
After School is an anonymous app aimed at school goers. Users can post text, images, and videos behind the veil of secrecy.
In 2016, we looked at reasons why kids shouldn’t be allowed to use the app. The response from parents was overwhelming. At the time of writing this piece, the After School article has 89 comments, almost all of which are from worried parents sharing horror stories.
The most significant issue is cyberbullying. Given the anonymous nature of the app, it’s ripe for hurtful interactions.
The other big issue is impersonation. At the initial sign up, After School uses Facebook to verify the user goes to the school they claim. But let’s be honest, it’s easy to create a fake Facebook profile, especially for tech-savvy adults.
We have no proof, but we find it almost impossible to believe there are no adults on the service who are posing as kids.
Bottom Line: You should block it for the cyberbullying. If grooming is occurring, you’re killing two birds with one stone.
Tinder is a common online dating app. It has probably been responsible for thousands of marriages around the world.
To sign up to Tinder, you only need a Facebook account. Technically, the app banned under-18s in mid-2016, but as alluded to previously, it’s notoriously easy to create a fake date of birth on Facebook. Estimates suggest that despite the ban, as much as seven percent of Tinder’s userbase is aged between 13 and 17.
Of course, this opens the same issues as we’ve already discussed in the piece: grooming and pedophilia. As a parent, you need to be alert to the possibility that your child could be a target. Remember, instill “stranger danger” into your child at a young age.
Using Tinder at a young age also opens a can of worms about image and self-worth. It’s easy for your early-teen to fall into an unhealthy obsession with appearance.
Bottom Line: Put Tinder on your block list to protect your child both physically and mentally.
Ask.fm is a question-and-answer site that’s widely used among the 13-to-17 demographic. On the face of it, the site appears harmless: ask a question, get an answer. Simple.
However, back in 2015, we took a closer look at the service. We discovered it was littered with sexual requests, innuendos, cyberbullying, and other inappropriate content for minors.
And in case you don’t think your child is susceptible to the above issues, consider these facts:
- In Spring 2013, a 15-year-old from England committed suicide because of cyberbullying on the site.
- In August 2013, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, England, also committed suicide after an Ask.fm user told her to “drink bleach.”
- A Guardian expose found 10 percent of 11-to-16-year-olds on Ask.fm were targeted at least once per day with rape threats, suicide encouragement, and death threats.
Bottom Line: Of all the sites we’ve discussed, Ask.fm is perhaps the worst offender for uninvited sexual advances.
We mentioned Omegle at the start of the article. It’s recently been exposed as a groomer’s paradise in a BBC investigation.
In case you’re not aware, Omegle is a video chat website. You do not need to register to use the service. It works by randomly pairing two strangers together, though you can express some preferences such as interests and desired gender.
Omegle does offer a “monitored” video chat. In the monitored version of the site, mods are looking for sexual behavior and other inappropriate content. However, an unmonitored version still exists, and several minors use it.
Bottom Line: No registration, lax moderation, anonymity, and video chat. It’s clearly a recipe for problems and should go on the block list.
Chatroulette works on the same principle as Omegle. It’s a video chat site that pairs random people together for conversations.
If anything, the site’s reputation is even worse than Omegle’s. Here’s what renowned American psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, said about the site:
“Parents should keep all their children off the site because it’s much too dangerous for children. It’s a predator’s paradise. This is one of the worst faces of the internet that I’ve seen. It’s disconnecting human relationships rather than connecting them.”
There are two other worrisome facts about the service you need to be aware of. Firstly, 30 percent of the sites monthly visitors are under 18. That makes Chatroulette an attractive destination for predators.
Secondly, as part of the site’s attempts to clean up its image, it introduced random screenshots. In practice, that means your child’s video feed could be snapped without their knowledge or consent and looked at by a complete stranger — even if they’re doing nothing wrong.
Bottom Line: There’s too much risk of your child seeing adult images. Block it.
Which Sites Have You Blocked?
The six sites we’ve listed might not be caught on regular parental controls. At face value, they are not necessarily problematic. The issues arise either because of the way the site in question handles users who are minors or the way in which other people use the site.
Which seemingly innocent sites you stop your children from accessing? Have you added these to your block list? If you’re keeping an ongoing list of these types of sites, consider using Trello cards or its checklist feature for tracking. And for blocking unwanted websites, editing the hosts file is a good idea.
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