In 2016, many parents are aware of social media and the risks that come with it. Recently Kristina at Mother’s Niche wrote a blog post showing just how prevalent pornography is on Instagram. If you haven’t yet, go check it out. It’s worth reading.
The purpose of this post is to give you a quick rundown on Twitter, how it differs from other forms of social media, and what the specific risks are.
One of the fun things about Twitter is its ability to connect people. Fans of actors, bands, and sports teams are able to interact with each other and even with the stars themselves! Does your son like the Los Angeles Lakers? So do 4.65 million other users. Is your daughter a Justin Bieber fan? There’s a good chance she is, seeing as how 75 million people follow him on Twitter.
Unlike Facebook, where a user interacts with people they know (or should know) in real life, on Twitter the idea is to engage with people you may not know, but with whom you share a common interest. Accounts are easy to set up, and you can use your own name and photos, or create an identity that keeps you anonymous. Therein lies the first potential problem.
The person your son or daughter is interacting with may or may not be who they say they are. It is entirely possible that the handsome young man who also enjoys Justin Bieber’s music is actually a married father of 2 who can’t stand Justin Bieber, but gets his thrills talking with teenage girls. In the worst-case-scenario, a fake online romance could develop and lead to a face-to-face meeting with disastrous consequences. Even if the meet up never happens, the topic of conversation can easily go to a place it shouldn’t, which brings me to my next point:
Types of Communication:
If you have something to say, find a way to say it in 140 characters or less and send it off to the world. This is a tweet. If you follow someone, you will see their tweets. Most Twitter users interact with each other by simply responding to each other or mentioning each other in their tweets. For those of you familiar with Instagram, it works in a similar fashion. If you want to tweet directly at someone and you want them to notice it, you simply put the “@” sign in front of their name. (You can reach us by tweeting @mymommystyle, and we’ll see it). This communication isn’t what you need to worry about because it’s visible to everybody. Think of having a conversation in a crowded room at a party – other people can hear you so you’ll probably watch what you say, if for no other reason than to avoid embarrassment.
Direct messages, on the other hand, are private and visible only to the two people in the conversation. Think of pairing off to leave the crowded room at the party and going somewhere private. In a direct message, child predators are free to practice their craft unchecked. Twitter users have the option to allow direct messages from people they do not follow, but generally these messages only happen between two people who follow each other.
The good news is that you can block people on Twitter. If someone is sending unsolicited tweets or messages, you can easily make it stop and go on tweeting as though they didn’t exist. When an individual is blocked they cannot view your tweets. However, it is worth pointing out that a child predator could easily be running dozens of accounts simultaneously. To more effectively prevent an untrusted individual from accessing your information, you’ll need to make your account private, which brings me to my next section:
In the privacy settings, selecting “protect my tweets” is the best way to ensure your safety. Doing this is certainly the safer option, however it will interfere with some of the more enjoyable parts of Twitter. Do you have a great response to something Anderson Cooper just tweeted? Unless he follows you he’s never going to see what you’ve tweeted from a private account. Going back to our party analogy, this is like setting up a private room with a doorman who only lets in the people you want. Keep in mind my earlier warning, however, that not everybody is who they say they are, and some people might get past the doorman because they have good disguises.
Even though it might take some of the fun out of it, I would highly recommend using this feature for a teenager on Twitter.
Twitter has taken measures to try to protect users from unwanted pornography. In the settings, the default is to warn a user before showing sensitive media including pornography. This is a way to protect those of us who don’t want to see it, yet still accommodate those who come to Twitter specifically for that. (Remember how I mentioned it makes movie stars more accessible? It’s that way for porn stars too.)
Despite these efforts, unintended exposures can and do happen, but it’s more rare than what we’ve recently seen on Instagram. One of the most common methods is a fake account of an attractive female will follow you and like a few of your tweets in an effort to get you to view her profile and click on her links or add her on snapchat. Generally there isn’t any nudity on these profiles, but they are still provocative images I don’t want to see and certainly wouldn’t want my children seeing.
Like most of the internet, if you go searching for pornographic material on Twitter, you will find it. Don’t rely on Twitter to keep your child safe. This 5 minute video is a great way to talk to your kids about pornography and what to do if they accidentally see it. My favorite part of the video is how not-awkward it approaches a subject that makes most of us extremely awkward – check it out!
Even if a teenager has a completely safe time on Twitter and manages to avoid both pornography and child predators, there is still one more risk. Twitter can be addicting. It has a way of taking what would normally be a 2 minute story on the evening news and making it last all day. Those who use Twitter to follow a sports team will find a continuous stream of all the goings on with that team. Even in the offseason – there is no end to the trade rumors or recruiting efforts or contract negotiations. It’s great to be able to follow your team closer than you ever did before, but sometimes it’s just too much. Sometimes a Twitter break can be good. If you find your child, or yourself, spending too much time with it, delete the app from your phone for a week and see what you can get done with all the extra time. You might be surprised at how much better your life is without it.