My 12-Year-Old Was Blackmailed for Nude Photos Via Kik Messenger
As a mom, and a communications professional in the technology space, I’ve heard some pretty scary stories about kids use of social media. Predators lurking on Facebook, bullying happening via Twitter, and even suspicious activity occurring on Minecraft.
As parents, we try to stay on top of what our kids are doing, but the technology seems to be outpacing our ability to monitor. And there seems to be a new breed of apps out there that are wreaking havoc on our children. SnapChat and ask.FM seem to be particularly problematic. Well, at least that was before a friend—someone I have no doubt is an engaged mother—wrote the following words to me:
“I want to share my story to as many moms as possible, so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Thinking it was some sort of bullying story gone wrong, I thought I would use her content as an opportunity to continue to raise awareness about new bullying tools and prevention; but I was wrong. This was much worse, and I didn’t even realize after finishing reading her e-mail that tears were streaming down my face. My heart ached for her—but especially her 12-year-old daughter.
You see, we continue as parents to try to give our kids an inch of technology so they can feel accepted and part of their generation. We often complain that we see only the tops of our kids’ heads because their noses are always in their phones, but we don’t take them away or limit their use. We think we have explained the rules, controlled the mechanism, established boundaries, but then a new company comes along with a new “app” that is better, faster, easier in every way, and it probably is. Until it’s used for evil and not its original intent.
And we don’t even know it’s happening.
Enter Kik (and several other messengers that fly under the radar of parental controls because they are apps. And oh yeah, kids can delete the messages so they are no longer on their device although they can remain on the recipients).
Kik Messenger (launched in late 2010, but gained a lot of popularity in 2012) is an instant messaging app for mobile devices. The app is available on most iOS, Android, and Windows Phones operating systems free of charge. It uses a smartphone’s data plan or WiFi to transmit and receive messages, so kids that have limited texting or no cellular texting at all love it—particularly because we now live in a world where free wifi is everywhere.
But kids really love Kik because it is more than typing messages. They can add videos and pictures to their text. They can also send Kik cards, which let them include YouTube videos, GIFs, or their own drawings in their conversations (these also fly under the radar of most parental controls).
The problem is some kids share their private Kik username on public social networks, or can find other users, usually with “cute” photos as their profiles. Kids post their username on their Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr pages, and once someone knows their username, anyone can send them a message—and sexual predators are using it to contact minors ALL THE TIME.
According to an article from The CyberSafety Lady: “There are no parental controls for this messaging app of course, this app is designed for adults. And the usual parental controls on your child’s device won’t work within the Kik Messenger app. So blocking YouTube for example on your child’s iPod, won’t disable the YouTube app within Kik Messenger. Some parents are sharing messaging apps with their children to supervise their interactions. This can be especially helpful for younger users. Kik Messenger doesn’t enable this ability. The moment you log into the same Kik account on another device previous messages and conversations are deleted from the account. Logging out (resetting) of Kik messenger also deletes all previous conversations and messages, which for many parents makes parent supervision quite unreliable.”
So, if you are like me, this is where you say: “This wouldn’t happen to me. I’d monitor my kids’ devices better. And they understand the dangers of talking to strangers.”
And then I read this from my friend, and I realized that if placed in a situation like this, I’m just not sure my daughters wouldn’t act the same (abridged for privacy and publication):