Every five minutes, it seems, a new app comes out but only a handful stick with tweens and teens looking to connect in fun ways to friends online. When those apps make the “fun cut,” and rise to popularity it isn’t long before unwise users exploit them into cyber bullying and sexting channels. Unfortunately, that’s reality. (Note: We are careful on this blog not to label an app or a social network as “dangerous” or “bad.” Technology is not inherently dangerous; it’s the way foolish people use it that creates a threat to family safety).
That said, Voxer is an app being used by teens that has been linked to some very serious cyber bulling cases. Voxer allows a user to send a real-time voice message (like a walkie-talkie) to another Voxer user. Users can also leave Voxer messages much like a voicemail.
Why kids like it:
The attraction of Voxer for teens is that it works real-time just like a walkie-talkie. And, they don’t need to go through a mobile service provider but can use Voxer with other Voxer app users. This feature also means an unwise teen can use Voxer to send bullying group texts, chat with strangers, or send inappropriate photos user-to-user without it showing up on a parent’s phone bill.
What parents need to know:
- Know what to look for. Be sure you can identify the app on your child’s phone, iPad, or iPod (see orange graphic to the right).
- Max privacy settings. By default, the Voxer app enables “Share Location” and disables the “Privacy Mode.” This is not good! You need to go into the settings and reset those for maximum privacy or random users will be able to find your child on Voxer using a name or email address (location OFF, privacy ON). Conceal personal info. Be sure your child has not shared his cell phone number, full name, location and address in his profile.
- Block strangers, bullies. To block people on Voxer on an iPhone (see graphic, right): Go into an Individual Chat > Tap Chat Details Button (in upper right corner) > Tap Block. To block people on Voxer on an Android: From your “Friends” tab > locate friend > tap on their profile picture > select “Block.”
- Give the Voxer, Kik, Ask.fm trio talk. Talk to your child about Voxer and the ways the apps have been misused. While you are at it mention Kik Messenger and Ask.fm (know how to identify apps, at right). Remind him that everything is being recorded and can be shared. Everything. “Delete” really means, “Delete for now.”
- Look in other places. Many times teens will put their Voxer, Kik or Ask.fm address or link in a comment, in their public profiles (Instagram, Twitter, Vine), or even include it in a text. Be aware of this more discreet “redirection” and examine any links that could take strangers to your child’s off-the- grid messaging channels.
- Save messages. If your child is being bullied on any of these platforms, make sure they do not delete the messages so they can be used as evidence when bringing in parents, school administrators or law enforcement.
- Recap consequences. Increasingly, cyber bullying cases are reaching national headlines and kids are being arrested and charged for their actions online. Remember, there is a chance your child may be the cyber bully. It’s important to educate him or her on what bullying is and the consequences.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).