It’s no surprise that as millions of young people retreated into lockdown, we saw a rise in the use of online platforms that connect us, both with friends and strangers. That’s why at Digital Awareness UK, we’ve been working with Vodafone to create a Lockdown Learning series that gets stuck into the topics that can feel tricky – hearing first-hand from young people all about what apps and websites are trending, giving us vital insight into the associated risks and rewards. Today, we’re here to explain the three dominating current conversations along with some tips on how to have more informed conversations about them with your child.
If you have a child in their teens, chances are they’ll know about OnlyFans. It’s an 18+ content subscription service where instead of ‘following’ or ‘friending’, you subscribe to content creators. With over 85 million registered users and over one million content creators (from reality TV stars to personal trainers), there is something for everyone.
By subscribing to an OnlyFans creator (which can cost between $4.99 and $49.99 per month), you receive exclusive content and can even chat with creators through direct messages. But it's not only mainstream influencers that users can engage with, OnlyFans has made headlines due to the large amount of explicit sexual material that exists on the platform.
Houseparty is a 13+ live-streaming app that allows users to create a chat ‘room’ of up to eight people. It’s an app we’ve been speaking about for years but was given a new lease of life during the pandemic when video chat exploded in popularity.
Imagine one big virtual hangout. Users can see which of their friends are online and whom they are chatting to, making it easy to connect with friends in real time. These chat rooms are designed to simulate a real house party, with people flicking between different rooms. This means that friends and strangers can start conversations at any time.
Omegle is a video and messaging website that pairs users with random strangers online. Just let that sit for a minute.
TikTok influencers and YouTubers have popularised the app during lockdown, with the #omegle hashtag racking up 9.8 billion views on TikTok. This January there were 65 million visits, with many of the users being teenagers.
Between the ages of 13 and 18 young people are required to seek parental permission before using the site, however, like with many platforms, there is no age verification system. While there are some genuine interactions, we have also heard some horror stories, particularly when it comes to exposure to sexual content.
Talking to your child
Where possible (and without explicitly mentioning riskier apps like Omegle), try not to be too judgmental or critical as your child shares their thoughts and feelings about apps and websites like those mentioned above. These are some of the common risks we come across when discussing these apps to help guide your conversation:
- Privacy and security: Reminding them of the importance of security settings when it comes to managing who can see what. E.g., On Houseparty you can select close friends to add to your friend list, this will prevent friends-of-friends from spontaneously calling you.
- Seeing sexually explicit content: Help them understand why it’s not appropriate for young people to see sexual content and the importance of talking about anything they may see that’s upsetting.
- Responsible finances: On OnlyFans for example, as with any paid-for service, it’s essential to speak to your child about spending restrictions and put measures in place to stop excessive spending.
- The digital footprint: On live-streaming apps, like Houseparty or Omegle, it’s not unusual for videos to be filmed or screenshot and shared without the user’s consent – so it’s critical to explain how inappropriate behaviour can have repercussions on and offline.
- Speaking to strangers: Helping them understand the risks of speaking to people who could be dangerous and what to do if they ever feel unsafe is key. If you are concerned that someone may be trying to exploit your child online, don’t try and manage it alone. Visit the CEOP website for advice and support.
For more information and advice about keeping your kids safe online, take a look at the other article in this series, Back to school, back to boundaries?