By Amanda Grossman-Scott
What you need to know about YouNow.
What is it? A real-time livestreaming video app. Users broadcast live and other users chat and comment about what is going on.
How long has it been around? Since June of 2011.
Who are its users? According to its founder 70% are under 24 years old. YouNow reports 100 million user sessions each month. The minimum age requirement is 13. (Notopolous, 2015)
What are the dangers? Many!
- Predators: It’s a pedophile’s dream. Anyone can have an account and of course there is no way to verify age. There are even search hashtags like #truthordare and #girls and #guys to make it easier for predators to shop for victims. “The danger is very, very real and the danger exists whether they know it or not,” said Steve Schafer, a computer forensics examiner. He helps track down online child predators — predators who find their next victim by going to websites that feature children. Steve Bockler, a professional private investigator, demonstrated just how simple it is to track down a teenager who is live broadcasting. Browsing YouNow, he found a user who said she lives in Indiana. Using the teenager’s YouNow screen name, social media accounts and free internet search engines such as Google, he quickly led us to the girl’s front door. “In less than 15 minutes, we had a picture of her house on Google Earth, and we were able to match the curtains from the girl’s curtains on YouNow to curtains that are actually showing on the picture on Google Earth,” Bockler explained. (Segall, 2015)
- Bullying: These kids put themselves out there for the world to see—and criticize. If the majority of users are teenagers (who can be cruel and hyper-critical of their peers) how positive will the feedback be? The people commenting have no care for thoughts, feelings and the real genuine person on the other end of the screen. And what does it say about a child if he or she is putting himself out there for other’s approval? Which leads me to…
- Self-Worth: Even if a parent is monitoring- what does it mean when a child needs validation from what amounts to imaginary online friends? Many kids may begin to derive their self-worth from outside sources such as this. When kids are looking to outside sources to find their worth, it is never a positive thing. “There’s a lot of hurting kids out there looking for attention and this is a way to fulfill that,” Allman said. “It becomes almost like a high where you’re putting something out there and you get people to like you. And then what’s the next step? You have to keep elevating the bar and finding new ways to be liked, and that can mean extending beyond your comfort zone and putting yourself out in way that’s unsafe. So parents really have to be on alert about these types of social media. They need to be invasive into their children’s lives to figure out what’s going on.” (Segall, 2015)
- Sexting: The average teenage user cannot understand the repercussions of any images they release to the online world. If a user makes a wrong choice (by exposing him or herself) that mistake will be around forever. Does your child understand what “distributing child pornography” means?
In preparation for this piece, I spent some time on YouNow. I wasn’t required to sign in to watch live streaming broadcasts. I watched a girl who looked like she was 12 (she said she was in 6th grade) tell everyone watching what time zone she lives then a few seconds later-what state she lives in. The consequences of this kind of disclosure are unfathomable; especially to a 6th grader. I watched a 14 year-old girl walk around in her underwear complaining about how much she hates wearing pants. I watched a young boy, who looked to be about 13, describe his struggles with mental health and suicidal tendencies. I watched another boy–maybe about 15 years old– describe the merits of selling methamphetamine.
I watched all of this without identifying myself or logging in. I kept thinking to myself- I could be anybody! And I am peeking into this child’s bedroom. And if I can do it anonymously- so can every pedophile online.
To be fair, YouNow says it takes moderation very seriously and I didn’t see anything overtly sexual. In addition, I also came across users who had been banned for inappropriate behavior. But how can “dozens of moderators” possibly manage to regulate over 100 million users per month?
Parents, could this be happening in your home? Could your child be broadcasting-live-to the WORLD-from his or her own bedroom?
Please, take time to speak to your child today about the dangers of an app like this. Reiterate that broadcasting their actions live for all to see has more far-reaching effects than a child can possibly understand. Make sure your children are having face-to-face interactions with real people like family members and friends every single day.
Set a goal to spend 30 minutes each day with your child without screens.
Notoplous, K. (2015, March 25). YouNow Is The Livestreaming App Where The Teens Actually Are. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/im-addicted-to-watching-teens-sleep#.smZ8XjAYz
Segall, B. (2015, April 23). Now broadcasting live – from your daughter’s bedroom. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.wthr.com/story/28883435/now-broadcasting-live-from-your-daughters-bedroom#.VT-xQ-qR23Q.facebook