What Parents Should Know About Yik Yak

We’re back with the “What Parents Should Know” series. This entry is ripped straight from the headlines in my own backyard after a pair of bomb threats caused Marblehead High School caused an evacuation. This isn’t the first issue schools are having with the app as rumors of violence and instances of cyberbullying are running wild within the three-month old app.

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About the App (from the Android Store): Yik Tak is anonymous, local and social – interact with other around you by posting Yaks… With Yik Yak, you can talk about anything and everything- share your stories anonymously… Yik Yak lets you post anonymously or under an alias.

As you can see, one of the biggest problems with the app is a user’s ability to remain anonymous. This is allowing people to post anything they’d like without fear of repercussion.

Upon downloading the app I quickly learned that users enjoy the anonymity because the app doesn’t require that a profile be set up. Once you have the app loaded you are good to go with posting. The app works off your phone’s GPS, allowing a user to see and be seen by the 500 closest users within a 5 mile radius of your location.

Given the lack of profiles on the app my normal method of reporting on an app isn’t going to work so I’m going to bullet point the pertinent information.

Age Restriction: the app is limited to users 17 and over or “mature.” However this is moot if age and maturity restrictions are not set on your child’s phone.

Location: in order to use the app, your phone’s GPS must be broadcasting your location

Content: The app actively encourages users to share anything and everything. It then allows other users in range to “upvote” on the story. While posts are limited to 200 characters this hasn’t seemed to stop users from getting into trouble.

Anonymity isn’t real: Police arrested a student after receiving help from Yik Yak to locate user who had posted threatening material on the app. You’re not as safe as you think you are.MHSbombthreat2a

Reporting Inappropriate Content: The app does allow for users to report inappropriate content. One way is to click the “report inappropriate” button a post. The catch being that it takes multiple reports for the app to take action. Users can also screenshot the content and e-mail it to the developers.

While that is all well and good, this will not stop users from bullying or harassing others. As no profile is required for users, all the developers are able to do is remove the current harassing content and nothing more.

The screenshot to the right (click to enlarge) are the two bomb threats posted in regards to Marblehead High School. In addition to finding these I found a large number of Yaks that proved that foul language, sexually explicit content, threats, and cyberbullying rein supreme on the app.

Given the nature of the problems already associated with the app in its infancy, I wouldn’t recommend allowing your child to download the app to their phone. Utilizing the ability to restrict the maturity and app rating levels your child can download to their phone is key. To assist with this I will be posting instructions on how to do this as soon as humanly possible.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Omegle

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s question comes from a concerned parent in Hawaii. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

If you were to stop me on the street and ask “Josh, should my teenager be on Omegle?”  I would more-than-likely start laughing while trying to get the word “no” out.  The site’s slogan is “Talk To Strangers!” At 28-years old, if I were to tell my mom that I was using a web site with that slogan, I’m pretty sure she’d ground me. I don’t even live with her!

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Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launched in 2008 by a 18-year-old, Vermonter, Leif K-Brooks, Omegle is a a free online chat website that allows users to communicate with strangers without registering. The service randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions where they chat anonymously using the handles “You” and “Stranger”. In early 2009 the site added video conferencing feature in addition to chat.

In compliance with COPPA, the site requires users to be at least 13 year old to use the service but as it collect no personal data, it’s not that hard to get around that requirement. It also asked that users under the age of 18 get their parents’ permission before using the site.  Cause that’ll happen.

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This warning features prominently on Omegle’s home page. It’s also enough to tell me I don’t want to be on this site. You should feel the same way.

 

Stick with me here, it gets worse.

The site, according to its privacy policy, participants’ IP addresses are recorded and stored for up to 120 days. They record the following: “the time your chat began, your IP address, a randomly-generated ID tag assigned to your computer, your chat partner’s IP address, and your chat partner’s randomly-generated ID tag.” Why? For “purposes of law enforcement.” Is anyone else seeing the red flag’s here?

Because of complaints, the site now had moderators keeping an eye on chats to make sure that only appropriate things are happening. However, one can easily click on the option to join an unmoderated chat if you pinky-swear that you’re over 18. How do they check this? Well, this nifty window pops up, and then you just click OK.

Trying to escape the moderators? Just click on the link for unmoderated chat. They ask you to confirm that you're old enough to be there without asking for any information to verify.

Trying to escape the moderators? Just click on the link for unmoderated chat. They ask you to confirm that you’re old enough to be there without asking for any information to verify.

 

Once a chat is ended, each user has the option of saving the transcript (when it’s saved, it lives on Omegle’s servers forever). Free software has also allowed people to trap and record video conferences- many of which can be found on tame sites, like YouTube.  An image search on Google gave me enough reasons to never go near the site.

I strongly encourage parents to have a conversation with their kids about sites like Omegle. Remind them that talking to strangers, even with a computer screen and, potentially, hundreds of miles between you, is never a smart idea. It is so easy to give out loads of personal information without even realizing it. Also remind them that the internet is forever and any videos that may be perceived as inappropriate can have a lasting effect on their future.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Social Networking in the Classroom: Blogging, Part 1

A few weeks ago I introduced my new series “Social Networking in the Classroom” and the response has been inspiring! In the introduction to the series, I weighed the pros and cons of integrating social networking in the classroom. In the following weeks I discussed Facebook followed by Twitter. This week’s topic? Blogging!

This week’s topic is being broken into three parts! Why? There’s so much to talk about! This week’s entry will look at some blogging platforms I think are pretty awesome for the classroom environment. Next week I’ll talk about the pros of blogging in the classroom. In the third part I will share ideas for blogging in the classroom. (The other reason is that I wrote the whole entry and saw how long it was so breaking it into multiple parts just made sense to me.)

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You might notice right away that I have avoided specifying one specific blogging platform to use. There’s a very simple reason for this, there are so many! I think it’s best to find what works best for you and your students. I’ve done a quick web search just to get an idea of the best blogging platforms for a classroom.

These are in the order that I thought of/discovered them and I promise I’m not getting anything special for promoting them…unless they want to give me something. Free Edublog? Hint hint WordPress!

WordPress- Since starting this blog back in June, I’ve really grown to love all that WordPress has to offer. The platform is simple to use and pretty straight-forward. It’s free to use though a premium account offers a few more perks but they aren’t important if you’re looking to keep things simple (I’m a simple user and paying $99 a year doesn’t seem worth it to me… I need that money to support my Starbucks habit!) The only drawback I would see with WordPress is that each student would need to create an account in order to become a contributor on the classroom blog. The perk I see with that, is that students are free to continuing their blogging once the class has ended!

Edublogs– Edublogs is exactly what it sounds like- blogs for education! The site is run by the people at WordPress and has all the same features!  The site is safe, secure, and for education only. While a simple blog is free, if you want to be able to embed video and HTML, you must pay for an upgrade. $35 will get you a year of Educator Pro and is great if you want to be able to facilitate blogging in your classroom and create accounts for students.  You can moderate students entries and comments with this feature as well.

Looking to connect the entire school? Edublogs offers that as well. Create a massive blogging community of students and educators. The cost varies by the number of blogs you wish to create. You can contact Edublogs for a quote. Not sure if Edublogs is a right fit for your school? They give you a free 30-day trial to give it a chance!

ClassPress- ClassPress is much like WordPress in its functionality. A one year subscription is the same at $35 with discounts if you subscribe with 5 or more teachers. Once you are a member you are able to create an unlimited number of students accounts. The site also automatically filters content in students entries unlike other which require you to actively look out for inappropriate language. One thing I really like on ClassPress is the drop-box feature which allows students to submit assignments digitally into one place. There’s no worrying about students misspelling your e-mail address. This also allows the teacher to upload files for download by students. Supported formats are Microsoft Word, Excel, PDFs and Powerpoint. Want the kids to have a record of their blogging at the end of the year? You can download PDF journals that can be printed, e-mailed or loaded onto a thumb drive!

Kidblog-While featuring all of the perks of the above platforms, Kidblog goes a step further to ensure the privacy of its users. Student accounts are private by default and the site is fully COPPA compliant, not requiring any personal information from students using the site. Comment privacy settings allow for filtering out unsolicited outside comments. As the audience is fully limited to those in the class, the site allows for the creation of password protected parents and guest accounts. As far as I can tell, the site is free to use but I’m not 100% on that.

Have you used any of these platforms in your classroom? Have any suggestions for other sites that can be used (I know they’re out there!)? I would love to hear more in the comments section below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Instagram

After my post about SnapChat, I’ve had a number of parents e-mailing and asking about other Apps and Social Media. Inspired, I’m now making answering these questions a regular series on the blog. These entries will be posted on Fridays. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

I will admit that I’m a big fan of Instagram. I joined and posted my first picture just over a year ago and I’ve been hooked. One of the reasons I love it so much is because it allows me not only to share photos from my time on the road, but geo-tagging helps me create a fun map of places I have been. This past spring, I began taking photos of schools I have visited and using these posts to give a shout-out to the great audiences and allow students and teachers to comment and share their thoughts on the program.

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While I’m having a lot of fun with the app, it seems others are having a less enjoyable experience. Parents are growing very concerned with the safety and well-being of their children. I’ve compiled some things all parents should know about the app and how to best keep their kids safe.

Privacy
Like most social apps, Instagram allows users to protect their privacy by selecting the option “Photos are Private”. By selecting this you are hiding your photos from the outside world and you, from there, can select who is able to follow your posts. Please note that this only hides your photos- information like your name, bio and profile picture are public no matter what.

Geo Tagging
While it’s great to have a map of your travels, it’s important to understand what it means to be creating this map. The option to “Add to Your Photo Map” is turned off by default. Once it’s turned on, however, it remains that way until you turn it back off. It’s important to make sure you are aware of what setting is active when uploading, especially when doing so from home. Forgetting to turn it off will allow others to see where you were at the time of upload.

Sharing
Instagram allows users to share their photos beyond the world of the app and onto social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. If a user chooses to share beyond the app, it’s important that they check the privacy settings on that particular network. For instance, on Twitter, the photo and location will be public unless your profile is set to private.

Friends
Keeping your friends real is the best thing you can do with this app and all social networking. My general rule of thumb is: if they aren’t a contact in my phone, they aren’t my friends. I would even expand that out to: if I’ve never been in the same room as this person, I’m not going to be their friend. In the digital world you can’t be too safe!

Keeping Safe

Like on Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by the Zuckerberg empire) users can be tagged in the photos of others. It’s important to keep an eye on what photos you or your child are being tagged in and how they could affect them. It is possible to untag yourself if the person’s profile is public. Otherwise, you’ll have to ask that you be removed.

Instagram also allows for a user to block another. Once a user is blocked, they will not be able to see your profile or pictures, tag photos of you, or mention you in comments. This is a great tool if you don’t want someone having any access to you or if they are repeatedly harassing you.

Users can also be reported for violating Instagram’s Community Guidelines. If you or your child find that someone is misusing the app or violating anything mentioned in the guidelines, report them. The claim will be investigated by the folks at Instagram and appropriate action will be taken.

As always, I encourage you to learn as much as possible about the app and share in your child’s experiences. Ask them questions or even ask them to teach you how to use the app on your own phone. Follow them and their friends and let them know that you’re keeping an eye on the things they post.

What have your experiences with Instagram as a parent been like? I’d love to hear about it!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.
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What Parents Should Know About SnapChat

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about some of the Apps that are growing in popularity among teenagers. One of the biggest has been SnapChat. SnapChat is a photo messaging system that allows users to send photos and videos to their contacts. Users set a limit of up to ten seconds for how long the media can appear on the other users phone. From there, the media disappears from the other users device and is deleted from the company’s servers. Seems innocent enough, right? Maybe not. Now I don’t want people to get too concerned because plenty of users are following the rules and regulations of both the app and basically, common sense. The problem are those who aren’t.

If I’ve said it before and I’ll say it time and time again, the best thing that parents can do is have a conversation about what their kids are getting up to in the mobile world. Talk to them about what Apps are acceptable to be using and what you expect from them as digital citizens.  Find out how they and their friends are using the application and how you can get involved in the fun!

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Privacy
Like all apps and social networking sites, it’s important to understand the best ways to keep yourself safe. SnapChat’s settings are pretty basic and allow you to protect yourself by controlling who is able to send you “Snaps.” The default for the program is “Friends Only” and, as always, I suggest keeping it that way. This way, only approved friends are able to send you content to your device.

Friends
Keeping your friends real is the best thing you can do with this app and all social networking. My general rule of thumb is: if they aren’t a contact in my phone, they aren’t my friends. I would even expand that out to: if I’ve never been in the same room as this person, I’m not going to be their friend. In the digital world you can’t be too safe!

Passwords
Pick a smart password and keep it to yourself. If someone were to get a hold of your password they would be able to send “snaps” as you and create a lot of problems. My favorite rule is this: treat your password like your toothbrush- change it often and don’t share it with anyone!

Sexting
The biggest concern for this application is sexting. It allows for someone to share a sexually explicit photo or video with someone albeit for a limited period of time. While one would hope that their teen is smart enough to avoid such dangers but mistakes do happen. Making sure that your kids understand the consequences of sexting both the legal and non-legal ramifications. It’s important to take the time to think before you make a mistake that could affect you now or in the future.

Why Parents Should Be Concerned (This Media Is Forever)
Here’s the problem with SnapChat. Kids have it in their head that the “Snaps” they are sending disappear after the allotted time they’ve designated. This isn’t necessarily true. Users receiving the “snaps” can take a screen capture on their phone, preserving the photo. If your child is sending something inappropriate or explicit, it can be saved and redistributed, leading to a slew of problems including legal issues.

Like files on your computer, when the image disappears, it doesn’t really go away. In May of 2013, Forbes reported that these pieces of media don’t actually disappear and with minimal knowledge, the can be retrieved from the receiving device. You can read the report by clicking here.

With all of this in mind, I encourage parents to stay on top of the kind of media their kids are creating whether it’s on the computer or with their mobile devices. By staying knowledgeable about these issues and keeping an open line of communication with your child you can avoid problems that can arise.

As always, should you have any questions about SnapChat or other media please feel free to e-mail me at info@joshgunderson.com

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.