As the younger generation of today become increasingly digitally savvy, the pressures on young people build to portray a certain image of themselves online.
Many children see the likes and comments they receive via their online posts as a form of validation and measurement of their self-worth, not to mention the constant competition for likes and followers among one another. In a society of Zoellas comes a growing desire in kids to behave, look and speak like their favourite social media influencers, whether that be the status, stories, images or videos they are sharing online.
More than three-quarters of youngsters say they’d consider a career in online videos, which is no wonder platforms such as Musical.ly has over 100 million users. The app, designed for ages 13 and above (although popular with those much younger), describes itself as a “lip-sync and video sharing social network for people creating, sharing and discovering short videos” as well as a way “to express themselves”. The platform has an exciting online tone that appeals to children. By labelling followers as ‘fans’, the video-sharing outlet is very much aware of its main user base and what language style resonates and gauges their attention. However, a platform which allows children to express themselves and feel empowered can lead to exploitation by online predators.
The potential dangers
Unfortunately, children are not the only users of Musical.ly, nor are they aware of the dangers the platform poses if used incorrectly. Creating an account can take about 3-5 minutes and is automatically available as a public profile. The lack of privacy means there are now masses of content available at any given time, mainly posted by children at the touch of a button. This raises alarm bells, particularly when you consider minors are posting videos of them dancing suggestively – one of the latest trends on the platform. During videos, which are often hosted live, children have been encouraged to complete a dare or accept a challenge in return for cash gifts. Children can be easily targeted by an online predator; some of the worst cases involve being bribed and eventually groomed.
The worry is that when targeted by cyber-bullies or predators on Musical.ly, children won’t reach out for help through embarrassment or fear of their parents seeing their online behaviour, or even worse, are completely unaware that their kids use the platform. As adults, whether it be parents, teachers or internet safety specialists, it’s vital we educate the younger generation of the risks surrounding free and public apps for kids.
What can be done to help protect children from the risks?
Firstly, profiles should be private so that content can only be viewed once accepted. Emphasise that only accepting friends they know is important in preventing strangers from viewing their content. However, private accounts can still be found publically where profile photos, bios and location details can be viewed. It is imperative therefore to make children aware that they must not give away sensitive details and personal data. Even though the account is on private, children must consider if they would be happy for anyone to see their posts. Functions such as screenshots, for instance, can result in their information going further than they’d like.
Secondly, closely monitor behaviours and moods and have regular conversations about the current trends, dangers and safety measures. This will help keep children constantly aware of today’s internet dangers and ways to stay safe.
Lastly, educate children on how to report any unwanted activity; it’s vital adults make them feel comfortable in doing so.
A united front
Among the many benefits of the internet, children need to be aware of the information and content they make available. Social media companies, schools and parents should make a joint effort in providing advice and preventing the dangers the internet presents children, to ensure they are kept safe online. It’s not about taking the fun away from children. They should keep singing, keep dancing and keep having fun, but need to be doing this as safely and securely as possible.
Article as previously seen on the Huffington Post UK website.