The idea that Big Brother may be watching isn't new, but new live streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat mean it's possible that a whole lot of other people, from your teen to people around the world, may be watching, too.
Periscope's tagline is "Explore the world in real time through someone else's eyes." The technology behinds these apps is impressive, and there are some good uses of it - I used Periscope to follow a conference that was held 2,000 miles away. When I checked Periscope just now on my phone, I could watch piano improv from Santa Cruz, CA, see rush hour in Kampala, Uganda, listen to "DrunkGuysinSweden" (who apparently have beer but no space bar) ramble on in their dark living room, or watch a man named Rashad who was speaking excitedly in Abu Dhabi.
It's not all innocent and simple because nothing on the internet is, really. Here's what parents need to know about the live streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat, the latest frontier of social media.
Periscope and Meerkate raise huge privacy concerns
What could go wrong letting kids broadcast their lives to the entire world?
I'll let you answer that.
While some kids could be fine, the fact that kids' brains are not yet fully developed makes it possible that they will not make the best choices every time and that they will share an event that the world doesn't need to see.
There is a lot of discussion that needs to be had regarding what is okay to share about yourself, and also what is okay to share of others. One thing that makes me uneasy about live streaming apps is that people are quite possibly unaware that they're being filmed and broadcast.
Regardless of whether they are actively engaged in live streaming or not, it's a worthwhile conversation to have with your kid. Ask if there are conversations or activities that they prefer to keep off the internet, and how they would feel if they were broadcast saying something private or going to the bathroom. Also, it's important that they feel empowered to be able to say "no" to others sharing photos and video of them.
There's also the issue of who exactly sees the stream. As Cool Mom Tech explains, "while it seems that broadcasts only go out to people the user chooses to follow, that’s not the case at all." The people you follow are mixed in with random strangers. Users can lock broadcasts so only specific followers can view it, but even that doesn't seem foolproof as a lot of kids have followers whom they have never actually met in real life.
There's really no way to know what content your kid will be watching
Just like live television, anything can happen. Unlike live television, there is no 7 second delay to push the button or FCC fines to worry about. There are no screening tools, so you really have no idea what you're going to get. A lot of the titles are in a foreign language and alphabet, meaning you really have no idea. Content can get ugly.
"[U]sers can (and do) freely broadcast sex, violence, and other iffy content. There's also no reporting system for inappropriate content, except through Twitter itself, which could open the door for nefarious uses of the service," says Common Sense Media.
They continue, "Because the potential for exposure to inappropriate content is so great, Periscope isn't appropriate for young children or tweens, and parents of teens might want to consider access on a case-by-case basis. It can open up the world, but it also can showcase things you might not be ready for your kids to see."
These apps are social, and the comment section can be like the wild, wild West
There is a definite social element to Periscope. Going live instantly notifies a user's followers and they can then watch, comment and send hearts in real time. The more hearts you get, the higher they flutter on the screen.
Instances of commenters making vulgar, sexually suggestive comments to young girls cropped up almost immediately (you can see one example here but it is NSFW).
One Periscope broadcast I came across said it was of the cruise ships docking in Miami but it was actually a woman broadcasting as she drove around Miami, turning the camera from herself to the road and back. It was another reminder that we need to stress with our kids that drive time is not phone time, and we need to model that ourselves.
Why live streaming?
Another big conversation topic is what good comes from sharing.
As a broadcast tool for members of the media or professionals (like the conference I watched), I can see it serving a beneficial purpose. But that's when it is used by responsible adults. Kids are a whole other story.
If applying the principles of THINK (Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind), chances are most activities and events in the typical day of a tween or teen fall short. Very, very short.
Common Sense Media says Periscope and Meerkat are best for kids 17 years of age and older. I completely agree.
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