Unfortunately, apps that allow anonymous messaging between teens are seeing a resurgence. In recent weeks, the anonymous app NGL has exceeded 15 million installs. Parents, and teens, need to be aware of the real danger of anonymous messaging.
While the mechanics of various anonymous messaging apps can differ, the concept is consistent. These apps allow social media users to send messages to others without revealing their identity, an ability exploited by those intending to cyberbully, defraud, or molest.
Children Have Been Harmed
On June 23, 2020, 16-year-old Carson Bride died by suicide. From January 23, 2020, to June 22, 2020, Carson received 105 messages via YOLO, an app that allowed children to send anonymous messages on Snapchat. The messages to Carson were mostly severe harassment, often sexually explicit and outright threatening. (We will not quote any of them.) Evidence indicates that Carson tried multiple times to identify the perpetrator, or perpetrators. And on the morning of Carson’s death, the last piece of web history on his phone shows that Carson was searching “Reveal YOLO Username Online” reflecting Carson’s final attempt to figure out who was harassing him.
Here is Elizabeth Long’s story in her own words:
My name is Elizabeth. I’m 19 years old, a freshman in college, and last year I tried to commit suicide. While still recovering, I started seeing messages about me on Yik Yak, anonymously telling me that I should kill myself. And I was not the only one. . . Yik Yak allows users to post anonymous messages that are broadcast to other users close by. . . With the shield of anonymity, users have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things were happening.https://www.change.org/p/stop-bullying-and-harassment-on-yik-yak
The list of teen fatalities related connected to anonymous apps includes many more teens:
- 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington from Long Island, New York
- 15-year-old Natasha MacBryde from Worcestershire, U.K.
- 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer from Buffalo, New York
- 13-year-old Ciara Pugsley from Leitrim, Ireland
- 19-year-old Jacob Marberger from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania
What Parents Should Do
Regarding anonymous messaging apps, we believe the benefits to children, especially young teens, to be marginal, if not negligible, while the severe risk of such apps is clear from even a brief review of their history. That is why we strongly recommend that parents and guardians:
- talk to your child about the dangers of anonymous messaging;
- implement a rule barring your child from using anonymous apps and websites;
- calibrate your child’s device settings to prevent downloading apps without your permission. (See our free, comprehensive parent course for instructions.)
This assessment does not necessarily include legitimate, trusted apps or websites that enable teens to speak anonymously with licensed professionals, including mental health professionals.
What Social Media Platforms Should Do
Social media platforms should ban anonymous apps for child users. Recently, in response to ongoing litigation, Snapchat removed Yolo and LMK from its service. At the time of this article, Instagram continues to permit the use of NGL on its platform. To protect the lives of its most vulnerable users, we most strongly urge them to reconsider.