Live streaming apps are popular and Periscope has emerged as arguably the most popular one, with others including Meerkat, Livestreaming, and UStream.. I decided to try out Periscope, thus making it far less cool in the eyes of the younger set.
I think that actually using apps is the best way to understand them and be able to discuss them with our kids, so I dove into Periscope, the app with the tagline "Explore the world in real time through someone else's eyes." I wanted to share my first-hand experience and what I think parents need to know about the Periscope app, and most of this info applies to other live streaming apps, too.
1. There is nudity. And I didn't seek it out, but it found me, and fast.
I found this out very early on and I swear I was not trying to find it. To the contrary, it caught me off guard in a big way.
I was using Periscope for one of the first times on a Saturday afternoon and decided to see what my viewing options were. You can search by location - there's a map of the world with markers over where people are broadcasting.
I decided to check out Chicago, and there were 3 people live streaming from the Windy City. I picked the first one listed.
Bam! Full frontal nudity.
Some guy in his birthday suit getting ready to head out on the town and had put his phone on the sink in his bathroom while he did his thing. That meant that the video offered a bit of a close up of, uh, strategic areas and not so much of his face.
In the few seconds it took me to figure out how to get out of that broadcast and go elsewhere, another user commented that the nudity could get him into trouble. (People can write comments that appear on broadcasts, and the broadcaster can see them.)
Mr. Naked responded that he knew for a fact that nudity was not a problem on Periscope. There was nothing to indicate anything to the contrary, and he had no intention of grabbing a towel.
I figured out how to get out of there, but there are things you just cannot unsee. Shudder.
It's not hard to find, it took me just two or three clicks. And my experience is not unusual. Common Sense Media says, ""[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 . . ."
It blows my mind that the age rating is "4+" and find that to be inappropriate for not just the kindergarten set but also the middle school set.
2. Periscope can be a way to watch history being made first-hand.
Because I apparently don't learn my lesson after encountering Mr. Naked, one night I thought I'd check out what was going on in Europe. I found a British journalist who was sharing live video of the scene outside the train station in Budapest, Hungary, where Syrian immigrants had just been told they would not be able to make their intended trip to Austria or Germany.
It was fascinating and intense video coverage, and amazing that I could get a real-time, unfiltered and unedited account of something most Americans didn't hear about until the following morning.
When watching a broadcast, viewers can click on a "heart" and they show up on the screen. It's a way to express approval or appreciation, and they're pretty cute and fun.
I decided to share video from the One Direction concert. Holy heart fest. It was fun to see them floating up the screen. I can see where kids in particular would want more and more hearts - it's affirmation and attention, things many kids (and adults) seek.
Some of the comments begged me to broadcast the whole concert, other pleaded "Don't ever stop!" I can see where kids would feel a modicum of pressure to keep broadcasting.
4. Broadcasts on Persicope go to a global audience.
People around the globe can and do consume content on Periscope.
Anyone with an internet connection can watch a video when it's broadcast on Periscope and for the 24 hours that it stays available after the initial broadcast, after which it "disappears," meaning it is no longer available via the app, though there are many ways for the video to be preserved.
People commented in at least five different languages during the One Direction concert, and it was fun to see comments in other alphabets, including Cyrillic and Arabic. I appreciated the reminder that music can be a universal language, and that kids from different cultures love the same things.
On the flip side, it's a little crazy to think that using Periscope means your kids can be sharing themselves with the world, and something they absolutely need to realize.
5. Commenters come with varying degrees of kindness.
Someone told me that I was a bad parent because I had my kids at a concert on a school night. (School had not yet started, but live-streaming commenters aren't known as fact checkers.)
When sharing a pretty day in Chicago someone suggested I jump in the river.
And some people thanked me for sharing video of a hometown they missed, of a band they loved, of the view from my walk by a river on a pretty day.
You never know what the response will be, and users should know that they will likely experience some criticism at some point.
6. The rules and etiquette on Periscope usage are unclear.
I'm an adult, I have a law degree, I write about online behavior. I thought using Periscope would be like falling off a log for me. It was not.
I had lots of questions about the rules and the etiquette surrounding when and when not to broadcast.
Video of giraffes at the zoo? No problem.
But what about footage from the zookeeper talk about the giraffes?
That was a bit trickier, but I figured that it was meant to be educational so sharing it would further the mission of educating others, right? But do you ask the zookeeper first? Isn't it only fair for them to know that their talk is being shared?
What about broadcasting from Brene Brown's talk to a group of professionals in Chicago? I really had no idea if that was acceptable or polite.
I'd seen a friend Periscope a portion of a Glennon Melton talk a few days prior and I loved seeing it, so I thought this may be similar, but I wasn't sure. I asked my friend who attended with me, and she had no idea whether it was appropriate or not, either.
We went back and forth and decided to follow the golden rule of sharing online - if you're at all unsure, don't do it/share it.
Turns out the talk started with a statement of the rule that photography was permitted but video was not.
Few places are that explicit, though perhaps they should be.
What about sharing video from the school band concert?
Awesome way for friends and family to view it from afar, but okay to broadcast other people's kids? Probably not.
If adults find these waters murky, imagine what it is like for kids with still developing brains navigating the social minefield that comes with puberty and adolescence. That's tough.
It's important to talk to kids about not broadcasting unless they have express permission from those they would be filming.
The Internet is a lot like life - there is good and bad, and the Periscope app is certainly a mix of both. After using it for a few months, I decided that it wasn't an app I was comfortable with my 13-year-old using solo.
I'm going to keep it on my phone and if there's a chance to show her a fascinating part of the world or watch history being made (or a One Direction concert), I'll share with her and we can watch together.
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