Social apps that suddenly go viral put children at risk

Anonymous applications like YOLO, Whisper and the now deceased have been linked with cyberbullying, pedophilia, unsolicited sharing of sexual images and even child suicides. Much of the concern about these apps focuses on their anonymity, as they allow people to speak with limited liability. But they are also risky as they usually become popular by surprise. These anonymous apps often gain popularity beyond their founders’ wildest dreams, leaving them unprepared to tailor their content moderation enough to protect their largely young user base.

Kids have the power to take an app from zero to unmanageable in a matter of days, but anonymous apps tend to be short-lived because they get too dangerous, and app stores either remove them or their founders. stop. For all the recent debate on Instagram for kids, anonymous apps are one of the biggest threats to children’s safety today.

Take the example of Sarahah. Founded in 2016, the app was designed as a way to give anonymous feedback to your colleagues. It invited anyone with a link to answer a user’s question anonymously. Much to his surprise from the founder, Sarahah was quickly hijacked by teenagers and at one point drew a narcotic 300 million users. Researchers don’t know much about the types of questions teens ask, and overwhelmingly negative media coverage may not reflect the realities of the app. But we know that users were not always on their best behavior: Sarahah has been plagued with more cyberbullying complaints than she could safely handle and was subsequently removed from app stores in 2018.

Sarahah is a perfect example of popularity by surprise: the app did not collapse because it was unpopular but because it became too much popular too quickly. Its founders couldn’t adapt its content moderation in time to protect its unexpected user base from children. Not all social media startups suppose they will earn money early, which means that the moderation expertise and staffing levels that come with surprise popularity are often woefully inadequate.

Secret, an anonymous app founded in 2014, suffered a similar fate. Allowing users to share a “secret” with friends, the app was extremely popular with children, winning the first place in app stores in eight countries. But former CEO David Byttow said his team couldn’t “control” the scale of cyberbullying and other user harassment, which led to it shutting down the app in 2015, less than a year after its launch.

Anonymous apps that become popular by surprise pose huge safety risks to children, yet they don’t seem to get the same amount of attention as big gamers. To my knowledge, no country today has laws requiring social media startups to have content moderation staffs, or for them to take any particular form. This means that children can use anonymous apps for the most part without supervision, not only by their parents, but also by app workers.

It is increasingly recognized that small businesses may justify different obligations than those of more established players, but whether these obligations are more flexible or more stringent is still to be debated. For example, the UK’s new Online Harms Bill proposes a “multi-level approachTo its regulatory framework, dividing businesses into two categories based on the size of their user base and functionality, including the ability to communicate anonymously. But as the UK 5Rights Foundation Remarks, the tier system proposal does not take into account popular surprise services that start with a very small audience but grow rapidly. To protect young users, the organization valorize that Ofcom, the UK communications regulator and competition authority, “will need to ensure that new services that present a high level of risk are subject to the required regulatory requirements before reaching the [larger tier] threshold.”

Regulating new anonymous apps is a delicate balancing act: do they need more flexible regulation in order to grow? Or do they need stricter rules, because a lack of regulation could make their young users more vulnerable to damage? While kids use globally popular apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, they’re also drawn to apps no one has ever heard of, and one-size-fits-all policies that established platforms won’t respond to. never to unique challenges. popular by surprise, applications are present.

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