Over the course of the pandemic, teenagers’ use of social networking apps increased exponentially. According to Common Sense Media, “media use by 8- to 18-year-olds has grown faster during the two years of the pandemic than it had over the four years before the pandemic began.” Social media allowed isolated teens to connect with their peers during school closures and social distancing. And, with the proliferation of social platforms tailored to their age group, teens are able to connect with peers who share similar interests and experiences. The convenience and accessibility of these platforms provides an avenue for teenagers to expand their social networks. However, there’s also a growing need for oversight and guidance to ensure their safety, as certain apps have inadvertently become conduits for crimes like sextortion. As teens spend most of their time at school, administrators need to protect students from sextortion on social networking apps.
Sextortion on Social Networking Apps
In an article for NBC News, Khadijah Khogeer discusses the dangers of friend-finding apps like Wizz. Wizz’s basic functionality resembles dating apps, allowing users to browse profiles and connect with similar-aged individuals. Marketed as a friend-finding app and deemed a “safe space,” Wizz users have been coerced into sharing explicit content under threat. In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received over 100 reports of sextortion on Wizz in the first six months of 2023. Child safety watchdogs have raised concerns about the app’s effectiveness in ensuring safety. Despite its popularity, Wizz avoids the same scrutiny as larger platforms and is not required to report child safety issues to U.S. authorities due to its French origin. Some experts criticize the app’s age verification system and advise caution for both parents and young users.
Protecting Students from Sextortion on Social Networking Apps
Social media offers students opportunities to make authentic connections with like-minded peers. However, it also creates dangers, from sextortion to grooming to cyberbullying. Therefore, schools should take measures to protect vulnerable students during online interactions. One method of protecting students is through raising awareness. In a recent article, EdWeek urged schools to teach media literacy skills to help students recognize manipulation and abuse. But education takes time, and everyone makes mistakes – especially teenagers who are still learning who they can and cannot trust online. By installing screen monitoring software on school computers, administrators can be sure that students are protected from predators. Screen monitoring software like LearnSafe detects predatory behavior, such as sextortion. By installing LearnSafe on school computers, schools can prevent crime before it happens and ensure their students’ safety.