A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt

Here’s an article from New York Magazine about social networking gone awry at Staples HS in Westport.  Warning, the article contains some graphic language.

M., a high school junior, was rushing to class last Thursday morning when a friend stopped to ask if she was okay. Taken by surprise, she laughed and answered that she was fine. Continuing down the hall, she was met by strange glances and similar inquiries. She was at a loss. What had she done to become a celebrity overnight? It wasn’t until she sat down for her first period class that someone finally told her about Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is an application that allows individuals to post comments anonymously, essentially operating as a Twitter without handles. Sitting at her desk, M. grabbed a friend’s phone and began scrolling through a feed of posts.

“L. M. is affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

“The cheer team couldn’t get uglier.”

“K. is a slut.”

“J. N. is a fag.”

“The fact that O. P. has diabetes makes me happy.”

“S. D. + 10 years = trailer park.”

“Nobody is taking H. to prom because nobody has a forklift.”

“J. T.’s gonna get lynched at SMU.”

“How long do we think before A. B. kills herself?”

“N. likes the taste of thick pussy and wheelchair pussy.”

“99% of guys have tits bigger than J.”

“I probably heard about 10–15 nasty things written about me, some of which I couldn’t even finish reading,” M. says. “M. will let anybody anally finger her.” “M. gave dome for $6.” She had come under more intense attack than most students, but her experience on Thursday was similar to those of dozens of students at Staples High School.

I’m a student at Staples, too. It’s a good, medium-sized public school in Westport, Connecticut. We don’t walk through metal detectors on our way to class, and the main job of our school “security force” is to hand out tickets when students’ Jeeps and Audis park in staff parking spaces. John Dodig, our genial and openly gay principal, greeted my freshman class in 2010 by welcoming us to a school that was “different,” a school that rose above petty high school malice. And as a senior, I’ve found Staples to be a happy, functional, though complexly hierarchical place. The three most popular senior girl groups are the Bots, the Bedfords, and Acrimonious. There are Albone and the Rowdies, both popular senior boy groups. There are the Amigos (popular junior girls), the Cool Asians (none of whom are actually Asian), the Fairies (the soccer team, not the theater kids), the Players (the theater kids, not the soccer team), and many others.

Yik Yak arrived at Staples from Fairfield, the neighboring town, by way of the Dominican Republic, where students from Staples joined students from Fairfield Warde High School on a service trip earlier this month. Fairfield had already been rocked by the app. Students described a scene of pandemonium that eventually resulted in legal action against some who were charged with cyber-bullying. After the service trip was over and the volunteers returned to Staples, word of Yik Yak spread fast.

When you watch stupid movies about teenagers in high school, you roll your eyes at the classic fallout scene in which the hallways are filled with whispering students all gossiping about the same thing. This was exactly what Thursday afternoon looked like at Staples. “Walking through the hallways, everyone was staring at their phones,” says one target. In the course of a few periods, the most private, deplorable thoughts of the Staples student body had been put into writing. And the worst part was that no one knew who was writing this stuff — maybe the asshole you’d expect it from, or maybe the quiet girl in the back of Spanish class.

In the period after lunch, everyone was waiting for the next post. Feeds were refreshed; new batches of unsigned obscenities entertained the student body. “I remember sitting there in class refreshing the page, waiting for someone to say something horrible and awful about me,” said one junior girl. Ms. S. was fully aware of the cause for her European History class’s distraction, as apparently many teachers had downloaded and perused the app during their lunch period. With each post, another girl left class to cry in the bathroom, vent to her guidance counselor, or drive home. “I was shocked, mortified, and embarrassed,” M. says. “I then called my mom and told her I was leaving school.”

During the last period of the day, a demoralized voice came over the loudspeaker: Principal Dodig had decided to address the school. Staples has dealt with social media explosions in the past, most notably the spread of Snapchat sexting and a Facebook cyber-bullying incident whose sexual depravity made high school boys blush. But I’ve never seen Principal Dodig as upset before. Between his sentences were heavy sighs and moments of reflection.

“To all the students in the school, I urge you at least not to look at the site,” he said. “I’ve heard several people today have read some things about them and they’re in tears. Don’t look at it. And if you don’t see it, it won’t bother you.”

His announcement gave Yik Yak new momentum.

“Mr. Dodig molested me with a weed wacker.”

“John Dodig touched my no-no parts.”

*

Yik Yak has been available for download since last November, and anonymity has existed since the dawn of the internet. So why did the app literally bring Staples to a halt last week? Maybe it was a form of emotional release for students who were beginning to relax after months of academic stress. Perhaps it was a way for students to get their bitterness out about their classmates, teachers, and administrators. Or perhaps it was simply the newest, must-have social media thing.

One student told Inklings, the school newspaper, that “kids are just mean these days, and they needed a new way to insult each other.” Maybe. I remember when Formspring and Honesty Box infiltrated my middle school hallways. But Yik Yak felt different. It wasn’t just a new tool for the school’s bullies; it was also an equalizer. No one was safe, regardless of his or her place on the social pyramid. Bots and Amigos were targeted just as much, if not more, than the gays, the fat kids, the nerds, the friendless. “K. sounds like she has a cock in her mouth 24/7,” went a typical attack on an Amigo. Staples Guidance counselor Victoria Capozzi says that one student, prior to finding himself the target of a homophobic post, was completely unaware that his peers even questioned his sexuality. Suddenly, the social 1 percent was subject to the same sort of cyber torment that had in the past been directed at the students at the bottom of the pyramid. Yik Yak gave everyone a chance to take down enemies, reveal secrets, or make shit up in order to obliterate reputations. You didn’t need internet popularity in order for your post to be seen; you just needed to be within a 1.5-mile radius of your target and your audience.

Over the weekend, targets turned to their friend groups for comfort. Group chats were flooded. A sample from one of the popular groups:

“Why am I getting ripped apart?”

“I feel like I’m in Mean Girls.”

“I was really rattled and red in school, I left for last period.”

“I cried.”

“H. will be forever known as the fat girl.”

M. still wasn’t in school on Friday. A senior girl who had also been attacked on Yik Yak told me over the weekend that she dreaded going back. “How do you look a classmate or teacher in the eye knowing that they might have read something about you? Or worse, they might have written something about you?”

Some students want to see the IP addresses of the authors identified. I would too, though I have the depressing suspicion that the students who wrote the worst posts don’t care about the lasting impact that they have had on peoples lives. In conversations with our teachers, guidance counselors, and parents, we constantly hear, “We didn’t have this when we were growing up.” Well, neither did we. Yik Yak and its capacity for anonymous, targeted destruction is new to all of us. By the end of the week Yik Yak had been blocked on Staples property, but it also had raised $1.5 million in funding. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a competitor to Yik Yak on everyone’s phones next week. Are we just supposed to ignore it? I see no solution in sight, and personally, I am thrilled to be graduating in a few weeks.

*Names have been anonymized, and one or two details have been altered slightly, to not make it even worse.

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Warning: Negative Social Networking via Ask.fm

Pupils and parents warned over social networking website linked to teen abuse

  • Schools across the country are sending out letters advising pupils not to use Ask.fm
  • Site lets anyone see details of boys and girls as young as 13, then post comments or questions
  • There is no way to report offensive comments
  • Has become linked to a number of recent teen suicides

By MARTIN BECKFORD

PUBLISHED: 21:03 EST, 12 January 2013

Pupils and parents are being warned by head teachers about the dangers of a rapidly growing social networking site that puts teenagers at risk of vicious anonymous abuse.

Schools across the country are sending out letters advising pupils not to use Ask.fm, which has more than 30 million users around the world and has been linked to suicides and serious bullying.

The website lets anyone see the names, photographs and personal details of boys and girls as young as 13, then post comments or questions on their profile pages that range from insults to sexual advances and threats of violence.

Warning: Pupils and parents are being told about the dangers of a rapidly growing social networking site that puts teenagers at risk of anonymous abuseWarning: Pupils and parents are being told about the dangers of a rapidly growing social networking site that puts teenagers at risk of anonymous abuse

Unlike other services such as Facebook and Twitter, there is no way to report offensive comments, increase privacy settings or find out who is behind anonymous bullying.

The website is based in Latvia, making it even more difficult for police to take action, while its owners dismiss any problems with the site as the result of British and Irish children being more cruel than those from other countries.

Jim Gamble, head of security consultancy Ineqe, said: ‘Ask.fm has become associated with some of the worst forms of cyberbullying and has been linked to a number of recent teen suicides in Ireland and the US.

‘It is almost a stalker’s paradise. In cases like this young people need protection from those who exploit internet anonymity to intimidate, isolate and bully.’

Uncontrolled: Unlike other services such as Facebook and Twitter, there is no way to report offensive comments, increase privacy settings or find out who is behind anonymous bullyingUncontrolled: Unlike other services such as Facebook and Twitter, there is no way to report offensive comments or find out who is behind anonymous bullying

Richard Piggin, deputy chief executive of the charity BeatBullying, said: ‘The tool that enables it to be anonymous can facilitate young people to say things that they might not say face to face or if their names were attached to it. So it releases their inhibitions, which can be very dangerous.

‘Sites like Ask.fm lack even the most basic child safety mechanisms or reporting protocols. They are of huge concern to us and the young people we work with.’

Founder Mark Terebin said: ‘We only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all. It seems that children are more cruel in these countries.’

 

Social Media For Girls: The Potential is Explosive

From: The Girl Effect

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR GIRLS: THE POTENTIAL IS EXPLOSIVE

18.02.13 | BY TOPSIE OGUNYADE EGBETOKUN

 

Social media is a powerful tool in today’s world – it connects people across continents and has affected massive social and cultural change. I believe that for girls in particular, the potential it holds is explosive.

Working as a female entrepreneur in Nigeria, I’ve been able to see first-hand how using it smartly is one of the best ways to overcome communication barriers.  This week, I’ll be at Social Media Week Lagos, discussing how social media has the power to change the lives of adolescent girls. As part of the ‘ Mobilize! Social Media For Social Change‘ event hosted by Girl Effect, I’ll be debating how tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have given Nigerian girls the opportunity to use social media to take part in the global development dialogue.

The importance of social media is clear to me. I’m always using platforms like LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook to make contacts, create links and develop relationships with others. Tools like these expand the communication and engagement I have with those around me, giving me the chance to join the right groups, meet the right people and get my voice out there.

Networking with others on LinkedIn is absolutely crucial in my professional life – it gives me the chance to reach out to new projects and opportunities, as well as share my experiences with influential professionals. On a more personal level, using Facebook means that I can connect to old classmates, friends and family, plus keep them up to date with what’s going on in my life on a regular basis.

The same benefits apply to girls, as there are huge opportunities available to them as a result of using social media.

Social media should not just be seen as social networking and having fun. It is fun, but there’s also an art to getting it right, and I think it’s important that girls discover how they can make their communication with the wider world successful. When used effectively, social media gives them a voice, helps create noise around a cause and brings both local and global attention to issues that matter to them.

An example of how this can be done is the youth social media advocacy campaign I am championing, which uses social media to educate, inform and empower young girls. With programmes like these, girls can learn how to use social media to their advantage; be it to further their career, meet influential business people or simply have their voice heard – learning these skills is vital to them.

Social media is also cheaper – a lot cheaper – than the alternatives. You can reach 1,000 people through the power of social media for a fraction of the cost that you can through television or print. It’s also interactive and this two-way relationship is key to the power of social media, and therefore key to the argument for girls using it more.

Through conversations that they can now have with high-level decision makers, NGOs and policy-makers, girls can affect the global agenda for change.

Girls have the potential to be an incredible force in the social media world. By using the technology in the best way possible, they will be able to change their lives and the lives of generations of girls to come.

Tell us how you’re using social media to change the world for girls on Twitter and  Facebook

Find out more about equipping girls to change the world

Follow Social Media Week Lagos using the hash tag #SMWLagos

Find out more about Girl Effect’s session at Social Media Week Lagos

Dad, Gives Daughter $200 To Quit Facebook

Paul Baier, Dad, Gives Daughter $200 To Quit Facebook In New Contract

Posted: 02/07/2013 6:21 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/07/2013 7:21 pm EST

Quit Facebook Agreement

Facebook may be hard to quit for a teenage girl, but as it turns out, cash is one powerful incentive.

Boston father Paul Baier was able to lure his 14-year-old daughter off the social media site after offering a five-month, Facebook-free contract worth $200, CNN notes.

Baier, a vice president of sustainability consulting and research at Groom Energy Solutions, posted about the contract on his blog, Practical Sustainability, on Tuesday.

SCROLL FOR FULL PHOTO OF CONTRACT

The official-looking contract states his daughter must surrender access of her account to her dad, who “will have access to my Facebook to change the password and to deactivate the account. This will prevent me from re-activating the account in the future.”

Payments will be secured in two installments.

As ABC News points out, the contract was actually his daughter’s idea.

“She approached me. She has been frustrated she hasn’t been able to find a babysitting job and she has been looking for ways to get cash,” Baier told ABC News. “So she asked, ‘If I didn’t use Facebook for so long would you pay me?'”

And the contract was drawn up. The Boston father told the news outlet that, so far, his daughter has upheld her part of the bargain.

“She has deactivated a few times for the weekend,” he said “She has spent two to three years on Facebook for 24/7, she realizes there is a lot of talk and noise.”

A new Pew study shows that the teen may not be the only one getting Facebook fatigue. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 61 percent of Facebook users have taken “a voluntary multi-week break” at some point during their usage.

Plus, now the 14-year-old can spend more time hanging out with her friends face-to-face, perhaps sporting a new outfit bought with her cool $200.

quit facebook agreement 

Instagram Unmasked: A Teen Explains Why It’s All the Rage

Instagram Unmasked: A Teen Explains Why It’s All the Rage

From rachelsimmons.com FEBRUARY 11TH, 2013 

instagram

by Valerie Aber

I made my Instagram account when I was in 10th grade, bored one day over spring break. At first I didn’t see the purpose – who needed to spend time taking and scrolling through cell phone-quality pictures of food and flowers? But then I realized the app could be used as a photo-diary of sorts.

My Instagram profile is set to private. There are random “selfie” shots of my face and lots (LOTS) of pictures of food. There are pretty pictures of clouds and tempting pictures of Starbucks cups. And there are pictures of homework assignments scattered about – pictures of large textbooks cracked open in front of my laptop screen and pictures of papers covering the floor. (What color was my carpet again?)

You can actually learn a lot about someone just by looking at their Instagram profile. It’s more than just random pictures of things – depending on how personal they get with it, it can show their interests, ambitions, hopes and dreams. It can show the little things that make them happy, whether that means they won a special award or even that their parents ordered in Chinese for the night.

But many teens don’t always account for the power that these images can hold. I’ve also seen Instagram used for cyberbullying. With today’s smartphones, it’s easy to screenshot text messages and share them to the world.

One of my good friends was targeted in a comment on someone else’s screenshot texts – another girl had claimed she was persistent and annoying because she had sent her two or three messages asking “Hey, what’s up?” after not having heard from her in weeks. Whether such acts were “persistent and annoying” is beside the point – the commenter was being entirely rude and immature for saying such things about my friend to so many people, and the original poster was wrong for publicly sharing whoever’s text messages were being shared. The entire thing was wrong on so many levels.

Of course, all of these things could be just as easily done through other social networking services, like Facebook. But most teens realize that their parents, family members, and even potential employers and colleges can view their Facebook profiles. On the other hand, not many of those groups would probably think to check an Instagram right away. So, this leads to many of us feeling like Instagram is our own private little world, one where we get to speak our minds with little consequence. Which, as always, is false.

Instagram shouldn’t be blocked, but it should definitely be monitored, at least to some extent. Because if a parent really knows their child… well, they never really do as well as they’d like to believe they do. Some of us keep secrets. Except that they’re never really secrets, unless the people who are exposed to them are too ignorant to listen. And ignorance never mixes well with good parenting.

Parents should at least be mindful of those accounts that their child is “following,” and be willing to discuss with their kids anything they might see on there. It’s not that the parents should be constantly watching with hawk eyes – please, don’t ever do this – but they should remember to be open. If you’re a parent, remind your children: “Though you’d be in huge trouble if you ever posted anything bad, I’ll never punish you for accidentally coming across an inappropriate picture on your feed. If you find anything that makes you uncomfortable, I’m willing to talk with you about it, and I promise that I won’t negatively judge you if you do so.”

Make sure your kids know that no matter what button they might press, there is no such thing as true privacy when it comes to technology. Looking at this in a more positive light, you should actually encourage your kids to post personal achievements or things that make them happy.

As long as their settings only allow for people who they know to view their photos, this can provide for not only a safe experience, but also one that helps them to grow in a good way, one that allows them to be viewed to the outside world as someone lovely and bright.

Including, perhaps, college admissions officers. I just hope they like Frappuccinos.

Oh, and to sum everything up with a quote from Roald Dahl:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Valerie Aber is a high school junior who lives in Florida. She is active in the National Honor Society and her school’s debate team.

What Girls Really Do on Instagram

By Margaret Rock, from: Mashable

Some things don’t change as girls hit their teen years, no matter what technology is in vogue. Friends become the end-all, be-all of social life, parents are embarrassing and don’t know anything, and getting cut down by your peers is devastating.

Add phones to the mix, and they can stunt a valuable part of child’s growth: learning to relate to others, as well as understanding themselves.

Tweens’ social media use and texting may look like positive social skills, but excessive use of these activities actually hinders emotional intelligence, or EI, which researchers agree is a better predictor of successful marriages, stronger friendships and even financial success.

As Daniel Goleman points out in his pivotal book, “Emotional Intelligence,” 80% of a person’s success depends on EI — skills like identifying, understanding and managing emotions in a way to relieve stress, communicate effectively and empathize with others. These are skills parents can teach and refine.

According to Cliff Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford, girls develop EI between eight and 12 years of age, while for boys, the development occurs over a longer period. But constant device use often disrupts EI development in girls, since they’re more active media consumers at ever younger ages.

I thought about that while on a weekend soccer tournament with my own children. Streams of young girls in between games struck the all-too familiar position: heads down, concentration fixed on the smartphone, and fingers tapping away. What exactly are they doing, and how does it affect them?

So I sat down with a handful of these girls to hear, from the mouths of babes, how they use technology. After all, you hear a lot about what experts, advocates and researchers think about tweens and technology — so maybe it’s time to ask the girls themselves.

“Facebook gets boring.” – Lauren, 12

The main attraction of phones is browsing and social networking, according to the middle-school aged girls, who had either feature phones or a tablet device with Internet access.

Two of the girls did have a Facebook account, but as Lauren said, “Facebook gets boring,” and they all agreed: their favorite place was Instagram. They’ve used the photo sharing app for about a year and said it is the best place to connect with all their friends. Since they join with nicknames, they thought photo-sharing social network was more secure. None of the girls knew Facebook bought Instagram last year.

Instagram is at the forefront of a dizzying array of services designed to appeal todifferent ages and interests. They pop up and challenge Facebook, many with visual media sharing, which take away from verbal communication — a skill girls are traditionally good at.

“I can also be creative with cool pictures.” – Kayla, 12

Unlike Facebook, Instagram isn’t driven by verbal postings such as “Today is going to be a good day!” but rather with pictures. When I asked for an example of a photo they shared, Kayla showed me a picture she took on a bright, sunny day. In it, her teammates stood in a circle with one leg pointed in toward the center. She took the picture from above, making the legs look like a spokes of a wheel, or in this case, rays of the sun — each one wearing different brightly colored socks and cleats.

Kayla put thought into composing the picture — the sports she loves, her friends and an interesting visual angle. For her, putting it on Instagram was self-expression, both of her identity and her interests.

Posting photos on Instagram gives tweens like Kayla a way to express feelings that words can’t. Girls use pictures to represent themselves to their friends, as they enter an increasingly sophisticated social realm. But it also skips over the opportunity for face-to-face conversation to develop important interpersonal skills.

“Oh, there are lots of places to get pictures.” – Riley, 11

Beyond their own pictures, tweens share images from other sites too. Marissa, an 11-year-old, for example, scours Google for images of dogs and puppies to add to her Instagram page.

Others mentioned memes, the term to describe viral pictures like cats wearing sunglasses in front of a laptop. Good memes spread like wildfire, tickling people’s interest at a rapid pace, aided by the power of mobile technology.

The girls share memes with one another, or search the Internet for them with phrases like, “LOL so true,” “teenager post,” “that awkward moment” or “you just realized.” One girl said she uses iFunny, a free app, to find pictures to share. Searching the sites is nearly as fun as browsing Instagram.

The girls laugh as they mention these search terms, congratulating each other on their recommendations while adding their own. They talk in much the same way as they interact online, where they look at each other’s pages and “like” or comment on them — and they feel gratified to get lots of positive comments.

“I got a ton of likes on that one.” – Sam, 13

Sam mentioned a meme that pokes fun of parents offering contradictory advice. “I got a ton of likes on that one,” she added. The girls say it is fun when friends praise their posted images — whether a clever meme or a picture of Christmas gifts.

And even the comments on Instagram have images, thanks to the hundreds of emoji, which means pictograph, for the girls to use. Emoji, a Japanese term for picture characters, are the popular smiley faces that adorn digital communication, and a growing number of them come pre-installed on handsets.

“You can say so many different things with them,” Riley said, explaining an inside joke where she’ll insert a winking face. She’ll insert the clapping hands emoji to congratulate. A lot of sharing and affirmation goes on in these Instagram circle, but there can be a lot of drama, too.

The girls said Instagram was important to their social life: They have a sleepover and document the fun while it’s happening. And, when they feel bored, they can browse their friends’ pages and see what they’re doing.

The drama with Instagram usually arises when posted pictures exclude someone or an image expresses a controversial opinion. Arguments from school can spill over to the site too, which can host seemingly benign, but loaded, comments.

Larry Rosen, author of “IDisorder,” which explores our obsession with technology and the drawbacks it hold on us, said teens on Facebook can have narcissistic tendencies, become more prone to depression and anxiety, and suffer in learning compared to those who don’t regularly use social media.

But the girls disagree. They said they didn’t use Instagram to flirt, since boys their age rarely use the site. That gels with research that suggests girls mature faster — and develop EI — earlier than boys.

For example, at the age of 10, girls and boys tend to show aggression equally, but by the age of 13, a meaningful difference begins to show between the sexes. The emotional response of boys, for example, changes little. Girls, meanwhile, develop skills like collective banning, gossiping and indirect communication to replace outright aggression.

“I post something on Instagram every day.” – Josie, 11

Half the girls said they post to Instagram daily, while others said not every day — but almost. Some think relying on “likes” and comments makes girls vulnerable to judgment and criticism, but they said that isn’t the case with them. One girl said, “I don’t care if anyone doesn’t like my picture, I put them there because I do.”

Still, the girls had strong consensus that it’s fun to have a popular picture — it feels good when they go and check their page and see lots of likes and comments — but it feels bad when friends overlook their efforts.

Whether you like it or not — or even if you wish it were otherwise — mobile technology plays a big role in how kids build and strengthen friendships during the sometimes awkward pre-teen years. A little of that isn’t harmful, but experts say learning social skills can’t be done solely online — and developing EI takes hard work and practice.

Tweens who devote most their time staring at a two-dimensional screen fail to understand body language, tone of voice and facial cues, which happens in face-to-face encounters. And down the road, that lack of EI may cost them in misunderstood relationships and poor work performance, to name a few.

Nass pointed out that in-person and online communication are not interchangeable, and kids must actively look and listen to the people they are with, instead of their smartphones.

“Face-to-face communication was positively associated with feelings of social success,” he said, adding that it was “consistently associated with a range of positive socio-emotional outcomes.”

So if you think your tween is learning good social skills on an app, you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security. Re-evaluate that perspective and talk to your kid about Instagram, Facebook and the apps they use.

And, when you do, Nass says, don’t be afraid to say, “Look me in the eye when I speak to you,” since that’s one little way to get them to practice their emotional intelligence.

Middle Schoolers and Social Networking

While social networking has many positive benefits, some middle school aged children around the country continue to struggle to make good choices on the Internet.  We recently learned about the site ask.fm, which allows members to send and receive anonymous comments and questions.  Many middle school students also use the mobile app Snapchat, which allows members to post photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds.

I recommend that you have a conversation with your daughter about her safe and responsible use of these sites.  I don’t recommend that any of the girls should use ask.fm; I can’t imagine much good that can come from a site that invites anonymous comments and questions.

Read below for some information on Snapchat:

Snapchat: Sexting tool, or the next Instagram?

Doug Gross, CNN
By Doug Gross, CNN
updated 9:20 AM EST, Thu January 3, 2013 | Filed under: Mobile
Snapchat is a fast-growing mobile app that lets users share photos and videos that quickly disappear.
Snapchat is a fast-growing mobile app that lets users share photos and videos that quickly disappear.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Competition from Facebook Poke may have spurred popularity of mobile app Snapchat
  • Snapchat lets users send images or videos that disappear after a few seconds
  • Popular with young users, Snapchat has a reputation as a “sexting” tool
  • Creators downplay its use to send nude pictures, say short-term sharing is fun

(CNN) — You may not have heard of Snapchat. But if there are teenagers or 20-somethings in your life, it’s a safe bet that they have.

Snapchat is a mobile app which lets users share images or videos that disappear after a few seconds. That’s right — they vanish forever in the time it takes you to read a tweet.

In a little over a year since it was released by a Stanford student and his recently graduated business partner, Snapchat has has quietly amassed millions of users and now claims to process more than 30 million messages a day. Some bloggers have called it the “next Instagram.”

Not bad for a mobile tool which, rightly or wrongly, is often cited for one very specific ability — the “sexting” of naughty images to other users. In an age when young people are constantly being warned not to post inappropriate things online, Snapchat offers a degree of freedom by letting users share unfiltered thoughts or images without much fear of reprisal.

“Like most people born before the 1990s, I’m not a Snapchat user, and I’ve long assumed the worst about the app — that combining cameras; young people; and secret, self-destructing messages could only mean trouble,” wrote Slate’s Farhad Manjoo last week.

But increasingly, he writes, it appears possible that “teenagers are more likely using the app to safely explore the sort of silly, unguarded, and sometimes unwise ideas that have always occupied the teenage brain … in a manner that won’t haunt them forever. In other words, they’re chatting with Snapchat precisely because it’s not like chatting with Facebook.”

Not to be outdone, Facebook last month actually launched a virtually identical social app called Facebook Poke, a mobile re-imagining of one of the site’s earliest, and ultimately most ridiculed, features. But instead of siphoning users from Shapchat, Facebook’s move appears instead to have launched the upstart app to new heights.

Both apps let users send images or short videos and messages via their smartphones. The sender can choose how long the message will be visible — up to 10 seconds — before it self-destructs.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly was part of the team that coded the Poke app, currently available only on Apple’s iOS system, in only a couple of weeks. A family photo posted by sister Randi Zuckerberg purportedly showed their family playing with the app over the holidays.

But if Facebook was looking to flex its billion-user muscle to take over the instant-chat market, it doesn’t appear to be working.

On Thursday, Snapchat was the sixth-most popular free app for Apple’s mobile devices. Facebook Poke wasn’t in the top 100. As Forbes said in a recent headline, “the kids like SnapChat because it’s NOT Facebook.”

A newer version of Snapchat for Google’s Android devices sat at a respectable No. 33 in the Google Play store, ahead of stalwarts like Draw Something, Spotify, Fandango and Amazon Mobile. Facebook Poke isn’t available for Android.

A look by analytics firm Topsy showed that mentions of Snapchat on Twitter spiraled to more than 212,000 on New Year’s Day, up from about 16,000 on December 20, the day before Facebook introduced Poke. Facebook Poke got 1,822 mentions on January 1, according to Topsy.

So, does that mean young, socially savvy users are sending millions of racy pictures of themselves through cyberspace every day?

It’s difficult to say. Technological advances and nudie shots have shared a strong, if secretive, relationship for centuries. From the printing press to pay-per-view to VCRs, new tech (particularly the kind that creates new levels of privacy) has always been followed closely by folks figuring out how to personally or professionally use it to get dirty.

There are clear, and sometimes ugly, signs that sexting is common on Snapchat.

“Snapchat Sluts,” a Tumblr blog full of nude and semi-nude images, was started up last month by a “party photographer” who says he put out an open call for salacious shots on Twitter and was overwhelmed by the response. Another Snapchat-themed blog on Tumblr is filled with complaints about male users sharing photos of their genitalia.

Snapchat users may think their naughty images will never come back to haunt them. But people can still grab screenshots from their phones, even though both Snapchat and Facebook Poke notify the sender if the recipient of an image takes a shot of it.

And last week, Buzzfeed exposed an apparent security flaw that it says lets recipients retrieve videos sent via Snapchat.

All of which should be bad news when young people and questionable decisions collide with the dark alleys of the Internet, where even the most ill-gotten of sleaze is posted.

Snapchat did not respond to an interview request from CNN. But in one of only a handful of interviews he’s given since launching, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel told TechCrunch he thinks the sex talk about his app is overblown.

“I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be,” he told TechCrunch. “I just don’t know people who do that. It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex.”

But he also acknowledged to TechCrunch that the idea for the app, which he and Bobby Murphy hashed out after meeting at Stanford’s Kappa Sigma fraternity house, was partly inspired by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s unfortunate decision to share racy photos via Twitter.

So, if not for naughty bits, what exactly is the purpose of sending images and videos that rapidly disappear?

In a September blog post celebrating its first anniversary, Team Snapchat shared a vision that comes off as downright wholesome.

“We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends,” it read. “It’s not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners, or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it’s an inside joke, a silly face, or greetings from a pet fish.

“There is value in the ephemeral,” the post continues. “Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.”