Why Kik Should be Kicked Out of Your Child’s Suite of Apps
“Mom, everyone has it. They have so many fun games….If I can’t have it I’ll be the only one of my friends who doesn’t!”, pleads your 15-year-old.
You used to have to worry about sites, such as AOL Messenger, MySpace, and Facebook but now the new flavor of the month has arrived. Though Facebook is still the most used app among youth, Kik is quickly growing in popularity. Kik Instant Messenger, Kik for short, is a messaging app that boasts more than 275 million users and 40% of those between the ages of 13 and 24 are using it. If your tween or teen is like many, they have a suite or collection of apps on their smartphone or tablet which they use to socially connect with others. Allowing them to install Kik is like letting them stroll through a park where predators are known to prey and play. For that reason, I strongly recommend Kik, is one app which should be given a swift kick out of their apps suite.
The number one app generating cases for police right now is Kik. There’s not even a close second. ( Cleveland 19 Digital Team, 2015).
Unlike many other messaging apps, users on Kik can message under the cloak of anonymity. There is no telephone number, email address, nor first or last name to identify the user. It merely asks new users to provide a self-selected name or Kik code to get started. This has set the stage for those who intend to do harm to your children to be in business. As one convicted pedophile stated,
“ ……I could go on it now and probably within 20 minutes have videos, pictures, everything else in between off the app because I know they’re both still active. That’s where all the child porn is coming off of…. Those apps are well known in our industry.” (Foster, 2014).
How Are Predators Finding Children?
Internet chatrooms have been commonly linked to incidents where predators initially make contact with children. One of the most common ways chats are organized on Kik is through group chats where up to 50 members can join a group. Though some chatroom texts consist of harmless chat between young people, a large portion of chat contains requests for sexually explicit content, such as nude pictures or photos, videos of sex acts, or even more graphic adult-oriented content. Here’s an example of an invitation to connect posted yesterday in a Kik chatroom:
“Female sex s.l.a.v.e.s. needed aged 16 or younger. Pm (private message) me your limits and age. Not a group. Not rp (role play). Posted 6/23/16.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg as chats like that are regular occurrences.
I am finishing a book which helps parents keep children safe in tech spaces (e.g. social media). In my research for the book, I found 105 arrests since the beginning of 2014 in which adults used Kik to have improper contact with children. A few of the more disturbing cases are summarized below:
- January 16, 2014. Huntington Beach, CA Jackson Roland Westermeyer accused of communicating with young girls, persuaded them to send explicit photos which he then exchanged with young boys to try to convince them to meet with him. Police believed this activity happened over a one-year period and involved 50 to 100 underage children between 11 and 17 y.o. He is said to have sometimes pretended to be a female to lure the boys. http://www.ocweekly.com/news/jackson-roland-westermeyer-cops-to-posing-as-a-female-online-to-get-lewd-photos-of-boys-6438150
- February 10, 2016. Unpaid library volunteer Deonte Carraway admitted creating videos recording children, 9 – 13, performing sex acts during school hours on school property. He was accused of victimizing 19 students, directly abusing 7 victims, and alleged to have created 40 videos. To get students to participate, he told them they would be part of a club. An uncle of a 9 y.o. found a nude pic on cellphone which was received on Kik and alerted authorities. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/principal-put-on-leave-from-school-roiled-by-child-pornography-investigation/2016/02/10/bf8dc8e2-cf96-11e5-abc9-ea152f0b9561_story.html
- February 11, 2016. Polk County, FL Lucas Dylan Bales, 25 allegedly messaged an 11 y.o. girl via Kik indicating he would publicly post her address and rape her if she would not send nude pics. He threatened to burn down her house if she didn’t provide information on other girls. She told her dad who contacted authorities. During investigation, authorities also found out he also allegedly sextorted 12 y.o. girl. – http://wfla.com/2016/02/11/man-arrested-for-sextortion-of-preteen-girls-deputies-say/
- June 2, 2016. Daniel Dunfee, 22 y.o. college grad, took a plea of no contest to 246 charges, from extortion to possession of child porn. He said he created accounts with fictitious profiles on Kik, Instagram, and Snapchat, enticed 15 girls between 14 and 17 to send sexually explicit videos and pictures. He threatened to place their face over a nude pic and post on the web if didn’t comply with request they send video. http://www.theledger.com/article/20160602/news/160609907
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The creating and sharing of child exploitation pornography has grown out of control as authorities are struggling to keep pace.
What Can I do to Keep Children Safe in Tech Spaces?
The best way to keep your child safe in tech spaces is to create a plan which involves a strong communicative relationship with your child along with effective parental control software. The communicative relationship should include regular time to discuss their activity on the internet as well as accessing news stories of activities of people who have harmed children and poor choices children have made which put them in a risky position. Regularly spend quality time and keep your child active in extracurricular activities as a large number of the underage children on Kik chats have indicated being bored and lonely. A few other tips are to:
- Unplug from all of your devices during their quality time. Young people resent the rule of not being able to use their phone at the dinner table while their parent talks or texts after they hear each ding.
- Discuss the reasons behind why they should not have apps which allow users to remain largely anonymous, such as Kik, Yik-Yak, or After School on their devices.
- Impress upon them how they should never disclose personal information to contacts (e.g. address, school, first/last name) online nor send lewd or nude pics. One of the most common ways predators trap children is by first convincing them to send pics with the threat of using it to create embarrassing posts if they don’t send more.
- Caution them about adding contacts they don’t know offline (e.g. never met in real life).
- Teach them about how risky it is to meet contacts met online offline.
- Assure them that no situation they go through is too big for them to ask for your support or assistance.
Though Kik adopted the use of Microsoft PhotoDNA Cloud Service to assist in flagging exploitative images as well as joining the anti-child abuse organization Virtual Global Taskforce, it continues to be an app of choice used by child predators. If your child is dead set on accessing questionable material in tech spaces, the top software on the market probably couldn’t stop them from getting there. That’s why the best plan for keeping them safe is by having good parent-child relationships with regular conversations about the pitfalls and perils which come with tech spaces. Though they want to be grown they still need to be guided, encouraged, and supported by you in this digital age.
- Cleveland 19 Digital Team (2015, July 15). A warning about the “Kik” app. Cleveland 19.com. Retrieved from http://www.cleveland19.com/story/29555870/a-warning-about-the-kik-app on 6/17/16.
- Foster, D. (2014, July, 28). Pedophile on Kik app: ‘It’s well known in our industry’. com Retrieved from http://www.trentonian.com/article/TT/20140728/NEWS/140729624 on 6/14/16.