Trend Alert introduces you to the latest trends that are impacting the daily lives of 16-24s.
In May this year, Snapchat banned the anonymous Q&A apps Yolo and LMK from integrating with their platform following a lawsuit from a mother whose son had committed suicide after being bullied via those apps. However, the proliferation of cyberbullying via anonymous messaging apps has done nothing to dampen their popularity. TechCrunch reported this week that a similar service called Sendit has been downloaded 3.5 million times since the other apps were suspended by Snapchat, compared to just 180k in total before that time.
So far, Snapchat hasn’t taken action against Sendit, despite many parental watchdog websites flagging it as dangerous and warning other parents against allowing their kids to use it. Sendit’s website features a few paragraphs on its safety protocol, promising to respond to reports within 24 hours “in most cases” and to remove content that violates their rules. They also state that the app is only for the use of those aged 17 and over. However, they don’t require age verification to join the app, and their advice on bullying recommends users to report the issue “to a trusted adult,” demonstrating clear recognition that their users typically are not adults themselves. There’s no incentive for them to make the app less accessible to under-17s as this would massively reduce their downloads and advertising profits.
As early as 2013, The Verge was reporting on the disturbing frequency of anonymous Q&A apps driving teens to suicide. Prime Minister David Cameron even called out one anonymous site, Ask.fm, which led to an advertising boycott. Whether or not Sendit remains available for use on Snapchat, the fact that it’s simply the latest in a line of anonymous apps to become popular with teens online shows that this trend isn’t going anywhere.
The ability to chat anonymously online appeals to young people who are at an age where they’re still figuring out their identity. While Millennials were more likely to have public social media profiles when they were in their teens and twenties, Gen Z typically keep their profiles private to friends only, as they’ve learned from older generations the importance of controlling their online image. Being anonymous allows them to send messages they might be scared to send under their own name, for example asking advice or messaging a crush. Of course, it also enables some less wholesome activities like sharing rumours and gossip or teasing their friends. In most cases, this is relatively harmless, but it’s easy for what started out as fun to turn into bullying that leaves teenagers feeling isolated, anxious or depressed.
So, where does the responsibility lie to solve this issue? If we accept that anonymous apps are a trend that will stick around, internet regulators need to enforce stricter rules around age verification and content moderation. Social media platforms like Snapchat should review the safety features of any app they integrate with, and similarly, the app stores should be reviewing this before approving any new apps. Brands can also contribute to protecting young people online by ensuring their advertising budget only goes to platforms that take their safety seriously.
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