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 HISD Employees: See the district's Social Media Guidelines (.pdf)
Social Media 101
There are so many social media apps, and new ones are popping up all the time. We’ve put together a list of the most common apps your children may be using, and, with some help from Common Sense Media, we’re letting you know about some of the dangers these app pose. We’ll be updating this list with more apps when we learn about potential problems you need to know about.
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  Facebook - a way for people to connect with friends and colleagues

Why it’s popular: Facebook is the most widely used social media site and one of the most effective online marketing tools. Many teens don’t find Facebook to be as “cool” as other social media sites – after all, their parents use it – but they often maintain a presence on it even if they don’t actively use it.

What parents need to know:

  • Settings are automatically set to public. Encourage your child to review their privacy settings and make sure they know to think about who will see something before they actually post it.
  • The activity log lets people know every move that’s made. If your child likes a photo, comments on a post, adds a friend, plays a game, or does just about anything else on Facebook, it appears in his/her activity log. Everyone who is friends with your child can see their activity, and lets them know they’re online even if their chat settings are turned off.
  • Facebook has tools to help you. If your child is under the age of 13 and has an account (it’s against Facebook’s rules), you can get their page removed. The site also has resources for you to get help if your child is being bullied on the site. Visit the Family Safety Center for help.
  Twitter - allows users to post brief messages and follow other users

Why it's popular: Teens like using it to share quick tidbits about their lives with friends. It's also great for keeping up with what's going on in the world -- breaking news, celebrity gossip, etc.

What parents need to know:

  • Public tweets are the norm for teens. Though you can choose to keep your tweets private, most teens report having public accounts (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2013). Talk to your kids about what they post and how a post can spread far and fast.
  • Updates appear immediately. Even though you can remove tweets, your followers can still read what you wrote until it's gone. This can get kids in trouble if they say something in the heat of the moment.
  • It's a promotional tool for celebs. Twitter reels teens in with behind-the-scenes access to celebrities' lives, adding a whole new dimension to celebrity worship. You may want to point out how much marketing strategy goes into the tweets of those they admire.
  Snapchat - pictures and videos disappear after being viewed

Why it's popular: Snapchat's creators intended the app's fleeting images to be a way for teens to share fun, light moments without the risk of having them go public. And that's what most teens use it for: sending goofy or embarrassing photos to one another. Snapchats also seem to send and load much "faster" than email or text.

What parents need to know:

  • Many schools have yet to block it, which is one reason why teens like it so much (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2013).
  • It's a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever an image is sent, it never truly goes away. (For example, the person on the receiving end can take a screenshot of the image before it disappears.) Snapchats can even be recovered.
  • It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing inappropriate content.
  Instagram - users can share photos and 15-second videos

Why it's popular: Instagram unites the most popular features of social media sites: sharing, seeing, and commenting on photos. Instagram also lets you apply fun filters and effects to your photos, making them look high-quality and artistic.

What parents need to know:

  • Teens are on the lookout for "Likes." Similar to Facebook, teens may measure the "success" of their photos -- or even their self-worth -- by the number of likes or comments they receive. Posting a photo or video can be problematic if teens post it to validate their popularity.
  • Public photos are the default. Photos and videos shared on Instagram are public and may have location information unless privacy settings are adjusted. Hashtags can make photos even more visible to communities beyond a teen's followers.
  • Mature content can slip in. The terms of service specify that users should be at least 13 years old and shouldn't post partially nude or sexually suggestive photos -- but they don't address violence, profanity, or drugs.
  Vine - Vine lets users post and watch looping six-second video clips

Why it's popular: Videos range from stop-motion clips of puzzles doing and undoing themselves to six-second skits showing how a teen wakes up on a school day vs. a day during summer. Teens usually use Vine to create and share silly videos of themselves and/or their friends and family.

What parents need to know:

  • It's full of inappropriate videos. In three minutes of random searching, we came across a clip full of full-frontal male nudity, a woman in a fishnet shirt with her breasts exposed, and people blowing marijuana smoke into each other's mouths. There's a lot of funny, clever expression on Vine, but much of it isn't appropriate for kids.
  • There are significant privacy concerns. The videos you post, the accounts you follow, and the comments you make on videos are all public by default. But you can adjust your settings to protect your posts; only followers will see them, and you have to approve new followers.
  • Parents can be star performers (without knowing it). If your teens film you being goofy or silly, you may want to talk about whether they plan to share it.
  Calculator% - allows users to hide photos and videos

Why it's popular: This app allows users to hide photographs and video from people who might use their phone. It looks innocuous, but it’s really a way to keep parents from finding content their children shouldn’t have.

What parents need to know:

  • It looks like a calculator app – the icon looks like a calculator and will say “Calculator%.” When you open it you’ll see a calculator.
  • Users can enter a passcode into the calculator to get to hidden images and videos. Passcodes begin and end with a period.
  • There are several apps that are similar. If you see a calculator app on your child’s phone, delve into it to be certain that it truly is a calculator app.
  Skout - allows users to arrange a “hook up” with another user

Why it's popular: This is a flirting app that allows users to sign up as teenagers or adults. They’re placed in their appropriate peer group, where they can post to a feed, comments on others’ posts, add photos and chat.

What parents need to know:

  • There’s no age verification. A person may sign up as a 15-year-old boy, but it could really be a 45-year-old man preying on teenagers.
  • Users receive notifications when someone “checks” them out, but they must pay “points” to see who it is. Those points aren’t free – they must be purchased via iTunes, Google Checkout, or with a credit card.
  • In 2012, the New York Times published an article about three men being accused of raping children they met through the app.
  Down - allows users to arrange a “hook up” with another user

Why it's popular: This app, which used to be called “Bang with Friends,” allows users to put their friends into two categories: people they’d like to hang out with or people they’re “down” to hook up with.

What parents need to know:

  • The first line in the app’s description is: “The secret way to get down with people nearby.”
  • Users are able to say they’d like to “get down” with another user for a hookup. The app then connects users, if they both answer with “get down,” so they can meet in person.
  • This app requires a Facebook account, so information on that account could be exposed to users of this app.
  Yik Yak - connects users with strangers in their area

Why it’s popular: This app is basically a location-based bulletin board that shows users the most recent posts from users within a 1.5-mile radius. Users can connect and share information with others without having to know them.

What parents need to know:

  • This app has a serious history of bullying problems. Many middle and high schools have reported incidents that involve this app. Since it’s anonymous, many users are using the full names of people they’re bullying because they think there will be no consequences. Some school districts have reported that bomb threats were made via this app.
  • The makers are trying to block the app in schools. Bullying became such a big problem in Chicago that Yik Yak actually blocked the entire city from using it for a few days. They are using a third-party service to geo-sense every middle and high school in the United States.
  • You can prevent your child from using this app. If you child’s phone is set to prevent apps from determining their location with the GPS feature, the app won’t work.
  Tumblr - interactive blogging site

Why it's popular: Many teens have tumblrs for personal use -- sharing photos, videos, deep thoughts, and things they find funny with their friends. Tumblelogs with funny memes and gifs often go viral online, as well (case in point: "Texts from Hillary").

What parents need to know

  • Porn is easy to find.This online hangout is hip and creative but sometimes raunchy. Pornographic images and videos, depictions of violence, self-harm, drug use, and offensive language are easily searchable.
  • Privacy can be guarded, but only through an awkward workaround. The first profile a member creates is public and viewable by anyone on the Internet. Members who desire full privacy have to create a second profile, which they're able to password protect.
  • Posts are often copied and shared. Reblogging on Tumblr is similar to re-tweeting: A post that's reblogged from one tumblelog then appears on another. Many teens like -- and in fact, want -- their posts reblogged. But do you really want your kids' words and photos on someone else's page?
  Google+ - a way for people to connect with friends and colleagues

Why it's popular: Teens aren't wild about Google+ yet. But many feel that their parents are more accepting of it because they associate it with schoolwork. One popular aspect of Google+ is the addition of real-time video chats in Hangouts (virtual gatherings with approved friends).

What parents need to know:

  • Teens can limit who sees certain posts by using "circles." Friends, acquaintances, and the general public can all be placed in different circles. If you're friends with your kid on Google+, know that you may be in a different "circle" than their friends (and therefore seeing different information).
  • Google+ takes teens' safety seriously. Google+ created age-appropriate privacy default settings for any users whose registration information shows them to be teens. It also automatically reminds them about who may be seeing their posts (if they're posting on public or extended circles).
  • Data tracking and targeting are concerns. Google+ activity (what you post and search for and who you connect with) is shared across Google services including Gmail and YouTube. This information is used for targeting ads to the user. Users can't opt out of this type of sharing across Google services.
   Oovoo - a free video, voice, and messaging app

Why it's popular: Teens mostly use Oovoo to hang out with friends. Many log on after school and keep it up while doing homework. Oovoo can be great for group studying and it makes it easy for kids to receive "face-to-face" homework help from classmates.

What parents need to know:

  • You can only chat with approved friends. Users can only communicate with those on their approved "contact list," which can help ease parents' safety concerns.
  • It can be distracting. Because the service makes video chatting so affordable and accessible, it can also be addicting. A conversation with your kids about multitasking may be in order.
  • Kids still prefer in-person communication. Though apps like Oovoo make it easier than ever to video chat with friends, research shows that kids still value face-to-face conversations over online ones -- especially when it comes to sensitive topics. Still, they sometimes find it hard to log off when all of their friends are on.
   Pheed - a hybrid of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube

Why it's popular: Pheed's multimedia "all-in-one" offering seems to be capturing teens' attention the most. Some teens also like the fact that they have more control over ownership and copyright, since Pheed allows its users to watermark their original content.

What parents need to know:

  • It's hot! According to Forbes, Pheed has swiftly become the No. 1 free social app in the App Store, thanks in large part to teens. Time will tell whether artists and celebrities will jump on the bandwagon and start using Pheed to promote themselves and charge their fans to view what they post.
  • Users can make money. Users can charge others a subscription fee to access their content, ranging from $1.99 to $34.99 per view, or the same price range per month. Note that a cut of all proceeds goes to Pheed.
  • Privacy updates are in the works. Kids should be aware that their posts are currently public by default and therefore searchable online.
   Ask.fm - lets kids ask and answer questions

Why it's popular: Although there are some friendly interactions on Ask.fm -- Q&As about favorite foods or crushes, for example -- there are lots of mean comments and some creepy sexual posts. This iffy content is part of the site's appeal for teens.

What parents need to know:

   Kik Messenger - an app-based alternative to standard texting
Why it's popular: It's fast and has no message limits, character limits, or fees if you just use the basic features, making it decidedly more fun in many ways than SMS texting.

 

What parents need to know:

  • It's too easy to "copy all." Kik's ability to link to other Kik-enabled apps within itself is a way to drive "app adoption" (purchases) from its users for developers. The app also encourages new registrants to invite everyone in their phone's address book to join Kik, since users can only message those who also have the app.
  • There's some stranger danger. An app named OinkText, linked to Kik, allows communication with strangers who share their Kik usernames to find people to chat with. There's also a Kik community blog where users can submit photos of themselves and screenshots of messages (sometimes displaying users' full names) to contests.
  • It uses real names. Teens' usernames identify them on Kik, so they shouldn't use their full real name as their username.
   Omegle - an anonymous ways for users to discuss anything

Why it's popular: Online chat rooms have been around for ages, as have the iffy and inappropriate conversations that happen in them. Though there are many misconceptions about "online predators," it's true that risky online relationships -- though rare -- more frequently evolve in chat rooms when teens willingly seek out or engage in sexual conversation.

What parents need to know:

  • Users get paired up with strangers. That's the whole premise of the app. And there's no registration required.
  • This is NOT an app for kids and teens. Omegle is filled with people searching for sexual chat. Some prefer to do so live. Others offer links to porn websites.
  • Language is a big issue. And since the chats are anonymous, they're often much more explicit than with someone who can be identified.
   Whisper - a social "confessional" app

Why it's popular: There's something to be said about sharing one's innermost thoughts without any repercussions, especially if they're not socially acceptable. It's cathartic. For those who simply choose to browse, Whisper can be amusing, heartbreaking, troubling, and comforting all at once.

What parents need to know:

  • The scenarios can be hard to stomach. Reading that a teacher has fantasies about his or her students or that someone's father is going to be released from jail and start a custody battle can weigh heavily on teens. Some confessions, however, are totally benign (and funny!).
  • There is plenty of inappropriate content. All too often, whispers are sexual. Some use Whisper to solicit others for sex (using the app's geo-location "nearby" feature). Strong language and drug and alcohol references also are prevalent (for example, "My wife and I were both high on our wedding day" and "I dropped acid with my mom once").
  • Whispers can go public. Entertainment news sites, such as BuzzFeed, are beginning to feature Whispers. The problem? When secrets -- including the embellished or fake ones -- become news, we may begin to find ourselves in tabloid territory.
   Secret - lets users voice whatever's on their minds anonymously

Why it's popular: Similar to Whisper, Secret lets people vent, confess, and share freely -- without anyone knowing who said what.

What parents need to know:

  • It tries to prevent users from defaming others. When Secret first launched in Silicon Valley, its adult users started using it to smack-talk their coworkers and bosses. Secret now detects when you mention someone by name (most of the time) and sends you a warning about it.
  • It requires some private information. Despite the fact that it promises user anonymity, it requires your email address and phone number.
  • Kids may encounter strong language. We came across "hell" and "f--k" almost immediately.
   Burn Note - erases messages after a set period of time

Why it's popular: Unlike other temporary apps, Burn Note's unique display system makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to copy or take a screenshot of sent messages. Though sending sensitive information via SMS (such as a PIN) isn't the smartest idea, Burn Note makes it safer.

What parents need to know:

   Badoo - connects users with strangers for friendship or dating

Why it’s popular: This app focuses on meeting new people and dating. There is a free service and a paid service. Users can chat and upload photos and videos to share with other users. Users can find each other with the app’s “people nearby” feature. Users are also able to chat with other users all over the world.

What parents need to know:

  • Badoo claims to have more than 212 million users. If your child is using it, they are likely getting a ton of invites to meet or even date total strangers every day.
  • People have reported that fake profiles with their photo and personal information have been created, and many of them said they had difficulty getting Badoo to remove the profile.
  • In a 2012 interview with CNET, Chief Marketing Officer Jessica Powell said about 50 percent of the conversations on the service lead to real-world meetups.
   Confide - lets users send messages that will “self-destruct”

Why it’s popular: This app allows users to send text messages that “self-destruct.” The app touts that you can “say what you want, honest and unfiltered. Messages disappear after they’re read, ensuring all of your communication remains private, confidential and always off the record.”

What parents need to know:

  • This app is a way for users to send texts of a sexual nature – the message is available during a single swipe and is then gone forever.
  • Confide doesn’t store messages on its servers. If you think your child is having an inappropriate relationship, the makers of the app can’t help you track down messages shared on the app.
  • Because messages “self destruct,” this app could be used for cheating on exams.
   Keek - users post video statuses that can be viewed by strangers

Why it’s popular: Keek lets users upload video status updates, called “keeks.” Other users can reply by video or text, called “keekbacks.” Videos can be a maximum of 36 seconds long.

What parents need to know:

  • It has a private message feature, so your child could be exchanging private videos with a stranger at any time.
  • Accounts can be set to private. If you’re going to allow your child to use this app, consider setting their account to private so only approved viewers can see their videos.
  • Promoted videos may contain inappropriate content. According to lessonpaths.com, a video shown on the app’s homepage was of a girl peeing in a cup in a car. If your child used the app at the time that video was promoted, they would have seen that at the top of the homepage.
   MeetMe - focuses on meeting, dating strangers

Why it’s popular: The site touts itself as a place “where new friends meet,” but it has a heavy emphasis on dating complete strangers. Users can find other users within a few miles of where they live.

What parents need to know:

  • This app has been around since 2005, but until June 2012 it was called “My Yearbook.” If you’re doing research to see if you’re comfortable with your child using this app, be sure to run a search under the app’s old name.
  • Some parents have reported that adults are “friending” children. It’s very possible for a 40-year-old user to “friend” a 12-year-old user, even though they’re strangers. One parent posted on Common Sense Media that her daughter was able to “sell” photos of herself to make “lunch money” and then buy gifts, like handcuffs and one-night stands, to send to other users.
  • The City of San Francisco sued MeetMe in February 2014, claiming that sexual predators use the service to target underage victims and the app lacks adequate privacy protections.
   Poof Texting - users can sent text messages that disappear after they’ve been read

Why it’s popular: This app allows users to send a text message to another user, and that message will self-destruct after it’s been read. Recipients must hold their finger on a button to read the message, and the message will disappear after the user releases the button.

What parents need to know:

  • Poof texting advertises that the text messages are not stored on any servers, so users may think this is a way to text things they shouldn’t without consequences.
  • The app uses a phone’s data connection to send/receive messages, so if you don’t have an unlimited data plan you could see higher charges if your child uses this app constantly.
   Streetchat - anonymous way to say or post photos of anything

Why it’s popular: This app is an anonymous local bulletin board that lets users post messages to be read by users around them. It’s an easy way to spread gossip without anyone know who is saying what.

What parents need to know:

  • This app was originally called Gaggle, but its name was changed in May 2014, shortly after it made national headlines. Gaggle is also the name of an online learning tool used by teachers and students to keep up with homework and due dates. That company sent a cease and desist letter to the app to stop using the name.
  • The Katy Independent School District reported in May 2014 that students were using the app to ridicule classmates and employees.
  • Much of the content is questionable, to say the least. When we checked the latest posts around us, we found an offer to buy drugs, several images of half-clothed girls and women, and what appeared to be a post soliciting a hitman. When we looked at posts made at specific schools, we found many “selfies” and the students didn’t have all of their clothes on.
   Tagged - users connect with strangers; emphasis on dating

Why it’s popular: Tagged claims to have more than 300 million members, so there are a ton of people to interact with. Has a heavy emphasis on dating.

What parents should know:

  • The “Meet Me” component lets users “match” with other users. When two users click “match” on each other, they can then exchange messages. When we tried this out, we received several phone numbers with requests to call or text the other user.
  • There is a “pets” component that allows users to “buy” each other. Players are assigned a value that grows each time they are “purchased.” Players “cash” that grows with each transaction, but they can purchase “gold” with real money in the app.
  • The app sends lots of emails. Every time a user clicks “match” or “buys” you as a pet, you get an email. Sometimes activity can be very brisk, so users could get hundreds of emails an hour. There is good news: Users can turn off these notifications. If you allow your child to use this app, you may want to insist that the notifications are either turned off – or that your email address is on the account so you can monitor what your child is doing. There have also been reports of spamming – invitations being sent to a member’s email address book.
   Tinder - matches people with other people around them for friendship or dating

Why it’s popular: This app allows people to find strangers around them to chat with and share photos.

What parents should know:

  • Users must connect to Tinder with a Facebook account. The app says it uses Facebook data to make sure users are matched with people with similar interests in common friends. Tinder does not post content to Facebook.
  • Users can chat with each other inside the app. Once two users have “matched” (which requires that they both “like” each other), they’re able to send messages directly to each other.
  • Users can block or “unmatch” with another user and it’s permanent – they cannot rematch or be unblocked at any time with either account.
   Viber - lets users make phone calls/send text messages globally

Why it’s popular: Viber lets users connect with anyone in the world (who has the app) for free. This can be done through phone calls or text messages. You can match your already existing contacts list to see which of them already have Viber.

What parents should know:

  • There isn’t a registration process – the user’s Viber identity is their phone number.
  • The app has been hacked in the past. According to a CNET article, in 2013, the Syrian Electronic Army breached Viber’s database and defaced its website. Viber said that no sensitive user data was stolen.
  • There’s been another type of hack associated with Viber – an exploit that allowed users to gain full access to another user’s Android phone. According to an article in PCMag in 2013, hackers were able to use the app to send a message to another user whose phone was locked. The app allowed users to respond to messages even when their phone was locked, which activated the Viber keyboard. That allowed hackers to take control of the other phone.
   Wickr - lets users send messages that won’t be archived

Why it’s popular: This app touts military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video messages. It boasts that its mission is to provide secure communications that leave no trace.

What parents should know:

  • Wickr says it doesn’t store apps on a server, so if your child gets into a sticky situation with another user, there isn’t a way to prove anything occurred.
  • Because messages can be set to self-destruct or disappear after a certain amount of time, it’s possible that this app could be used for cheating on exams and sharing homework.
  • Since messages can self-destruct, this app provides the opportunity for users to send explicit photos, videos, and text messages to each other without the fear of getting caught.
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