When I was about twelve years old my neighbour received a walkie-talkie set for her birthday. Not a kids set. A real set. It didn’t take my neighbour, my sister and I long to figure out that we could tune into the radio frequency truck drivers used. We often chatted to these men (and they were always men) and felt a girlish thrill in doing so. The men were polite and respectful, if somewhat bemused to find a trio of girls on their wave length. Very occasionally we would pick up a bad vibe and hurriedly turn the things off if we were concerned about where the conversation was going.
I remembered those walkie talkies the other day as I was playing with Twitter’s new app: Periscope. It’s a live video streaming app where people can comment as you are streaming. I think it has some great potential uses. Q & A sessions. Tutorials. Discovering exactly what sunset looks like in St Petersburg tonight. But it also rang alarm bells.
Periscope expressly forbids pornographic content within its terms and conditions. It also forbids piracy. That didn’t stop hundreds of users live streaming the final episode of Game of Thrones. The conditions against pornographic content haven’t stopped lewd and suggestive comments being made towards female broadcasters.
The other day I showed my sister in laws the app, concerned about what things like this mean for my nieces. It took us a few moments to find a pair of girls, maybe twelve, hosting a scope whilst in their pyjamas and asking for dares. Within seconds, someone commented “show us your boobs”. The girls giggled at the suggestion, shrugged it off and moved onto the tamer “pick your nose”.
I do worry about apps like this and what they mean to teenagers. What’s to stop someone playing truth or dare on a global (and potentially dangerous) scale? How can you prevent cyber bullying when the person broadcasting is vulnerable and visible and the people commenting are hiding behind screen personas? How can you control or censure something when it’s live? Will teenagers make the right decision when they have no time to consider what to do?
Periscope is new(ish) but live streaming apps aren’t. YouNow and Meerkat have been around for a while. This blog post from Cool Mom Tech explores some of the more concerning uses.
My boys are way too young yet for any kind of social media, but my nieces are already asking about it. They are barely knocking on the doors of their teenage years. What do you do as a parent when faced with these kinds of apps?
I think it’s really important to talk about this stuff. To keep it out in the open and for our teenagers to be aware of exactly what they are doing and the consequences that may follow. I really wouldn’t want my nieces on Periscope (or Instagram for that matter) but they eventually will find their way to social media. And when they do, I want them to be completely informed and transparent. I want them to feel comfortable talking to the adults around them about the issues social media presents. I want them to think twice before challenging an unknown world to a game of truth or dare.