NSPCC warning over anonymous messaging apps

I want to take a look at anonymous messaging apps, in light of a recent warning issued by the NSPCC about YOLO, writes NSPCC campaign manager Helen Westerman.

Monday, 13th May 2019, 9:49 am
Updated Monday, 13th May 2019, 10:49 am

A variety of websites and apps allow users to anonymously submit questions, comments and have conversations with other users, without knowing their identity. YOLO, which is an acronym for ‘you only live once’, seems to be the latest in a long line.

For instance, an app called Sarahah was banned from Google and Apple app stores last year due to accusations that it was facilitating bullying, however, it has now been re-added to the Google Play store. Other popular anonymous messaging apps that are currently being used by thousands of users include AskFM, Curious Cat, Tellonym, Sayat.me and Flizle.

Anonymous messaging apps pose a number of risks and can easily be misused to send abusive or upsetting messages. Many of these apps do not require users to register, and the anonymous nature of the apps can encourage users to behave differently, encourage predators, and has a greater risk of bullying or offensive comments.

How are such apps allowed? How can social media platforms justify this potential risk to our children? At the weekend the country’s leading child protection police officer suggested that the solution could be a public boycott of social media companies. We would certainly agree that it feels like social media sites treat child safeguarding crises as a bad news cycle to ride out, rather than a chance to make changes to protect children.

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Andy Burrows, the NSPCC’s associate head of child safety online, said: “On a depressingly regular basis they fail to act when it comes to tackling the horrifying child abuse imagery and harmful content on their platforms.”

So it seems essential that the government brings in an independent regulator that will have the powers to make tech companies consider the risks. In the meantime, you can find help and support in tackling general online safety chats, as well as more specific chats about anonymous messaging apps, on our Net Aware site, which we created with O2.

Talk to your children about the risks before they start using these platforms, and, if they are posting anonymously, they should consider the impact of sending unkind messages. Users sending abusive or inappropriate comments can be blocked even if they are anonymous, although young people should be aware that this may be bypassed by using another device. If a young person is receiving bullying or inappropriate messages on one of these platforms, they should block the user and make a report to the platform. It is important to give our children the confidence to speak out if they come across upsetting content or behaviour.

You can find more information at www.net-aware.org.uk or call 0808 800 5002 for free.