Free Apps, Dark Social causing concern for parents and law enforcement

Image: Philippe Put cc
Teenagers are moving away from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other "traditional" social media channels as a way to connect with friends and towards free smartphones apps. But beware, they’re not just talking to friends, they are also "meeting" strangers and far too often the meeting in not just taking place online. Unlike traditional texting these communications apps are free and much harder to track.

Several of these apps have caught the attention of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force uncovered sexual predators were using free smartphone apps to find victims.  According to a news story earlier this year, the problem makes up for 50 percent of the task force's case load.  The apps that are currently of most concern to law enforcement are Meet24, Kik, Meetz4U, Snapchat, Moco, Meet me and Topface.

These apps have also become a breeding ground for cyber bullies. According to a recent article by Sarah Evans on Raising America, many parents are not familiar with the popular apps kids use to communicate, but they need to be the first line of defense against cyberbullying. Evans points to a tragic incident where 12 year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick committed suicide after being “terrorized” on social media. However, it wasn’t the comments on her Facebook or Instagram accounts that were the only concern, it was the messages from 15 kids encouraging the girl’s suicide that were on, Kik and Voxer, apps lesser-known to parents.

In this 24/7/365 digital world, keeping our kids safe becomes even more challenging. The first step is staying a step ahead. Learn about the apps your kids are using, talk to them about the potential dangers and monitor their online and cellphone activities. Finally, report any threatening activity to law enforcement.

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