Thought your use of Facebook made you wise to social networks? Think again. In Ireland, most evidence shows us that while Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are widely used by adults, children and teens often opt for alternative social networks and messaging services. These are overwhelmingly phone-based apps that are chosen because they are off the radar of parents and older people. Here are four that parents should get to know:
Snapchat is the fastest-growing smartphone online messaging service. That growth is driven overwhelmingly by kids and teenagers. The app is aimed at sending photos or video messages to individuals or groups. Snapchat's standout feature is that, once seen, messages auto-delete themselves after 10 seconds (or less). While this is supposed to make the service more private, it also emboldens behaviour in an expectation that there might be no proof of the communication (although users can take screenshots of the message). For adult users, this has earned the service a reputation for 'sexting'. But for younger users, the main fear is cyber-bullying.
Instagram has become the most popular social media service among kids under 13, partly due to Facebook's over-13 age restrictions and partly because it is overwhelmingly photo-based. It is primarily a phone-based service that allows you to set up a profile and share photos with other users and other social networks. Although cited in the recent 'Net Children Go Mobile' report as a relatively common source of cyber-bullying, it is relatively easy to police for parents due to its popularity and its relative closeness to parent firm Facebook.
Kik is a phone messaging service (like Whatsapp) that allows users to send texts, photos or videos. Buy unlike other messaging services, you don't have to have a phone number, you can just choose a name. This means that it suits kids who don't yet have a phone number but may have access to wi-fi.
While Ask.FM received a public pasting last summer for being linked to chronic bullying cases, the service has retained its popularity, especially among girls aged 13 and 14. The service works by allowing users to post questions, which you can then answer. The details remain posted on your page. Although you have to join the service to post questions, it defaults toward anonymity. This makes it very easy for unpleasant things to be asked. However, a survey from DIT and DCU found 1.4pc of Irish kids being bullied said that it happened using Ask.FM. This is lower than other social media.