How Concerned Should Parents Be About Kik?
Kik is one of the more popular apps used by tween and teenagers. Primarily, Kik operates like a free-for-all bulletin board. Postings are made publicly and scroll down the screen, similar to a Twitter stream. A user’s profile picture is included with each post and users have the option of including another image (as an alternate) with an individual post.
Additionally, people can create private group chats for up to 50 people. The members of the group stay in the group even after they stop using the app so they can return to it later. Kik has created quite a few public chatrooms for groups. Many of them, especially those that are from a specific geographic area, tend to fill up quickly. They can be a place for predators to find local targets.
While no app is at fault for the actions of the people using it, Kik certainly makes it easy for abuse to happen. For this reason, it receives an 8.4 out of 10 for it’s Bottom Line (see below). That is higher than almost every other app that I have been using so far. Here’s where I make my case to justify that determination.
Catfishing (10 out of 10)
Of all of the apps that I’ve seen, Kik rates the worst when it comes to the number of catfish (fakes) on it. Like other social media sites, there is no verification by the company for their users. It is very common to see the same image being used for multiple accounts.
In the image below, which was only two postings apart in the feed, the same image is being used, but the ages are different. So, either the accounts are not what they appear to be, or this family has an amazing family resemblance for two women born two years apart. Which do you think is more likely?
Too many of the accounts are fakes, usually automated accounts that respond with direct messages to them with the promise of naked images if the person wants them. More on that in other sections here, but I know that the list of accounts that I’ve blocked is well over several hundred. It helps me identify people I don’t want to communicate with anymore or fake accounts, who sometimes change their profile picture. Even so, after blocking an account, it is very common to see the same image being used on a new account. One profile picture that I see frequently on multiple accounts is clearly not a legitimate account. A simple “Hi” to the account almost immediately results in a naked image of a young girl with the potential for more.
Now, keep in mind that my account shows my true age of 51 and often, a picture of my face. At times, I may switch it out for a seasonal image, such as a jack-o-lantern around Halloween or a funny meme.
Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)
Cyberbully can happen on any site and Kik is no different. It is pretty easy to block someone who attacks you directly in private messages. Messages that are posted publicly are easy to miss and most often, are probably missed completely.
Where cyberbullying is most likely to happen is within a Kik group. Unlike other sites, such as Facebook, when users invite other users into a group, it simply happens. Facebook, for example, asks the person if they wish to join the group. Once in a group, the members can “roast” another person. Unlike the humorous roasts people see on TV of celebrities, social media roasts tend to be cruel. Imagine being attacked online, live, by dozens of people all at once!
I’ve been invited into more than one group to be roasted because of my age. When teens see someone old enough to be their father on Kik, they feel the need to treat them with disdain. Many either see me as a predator or at the least, a weirdo for being online with teenagers. I take that as a good sign, actually, that the teens are at least looking out for predators.
I usually quit the groups immediately, but unless I block all users from readmitting me to the group, I usually get placed right back into it. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to prevent anyone from putting you back in the group, but even after I do that, some users send me private messages to attack me in private. Fortunately, I have a very thick skin and am doing it to see just how bad it is for people on the app, so I don’t let it get to me.
I’ve also been invited into groups to roast other people. In those cases, I’ve always practiced Positive Slamming in the group and also reached out to the target via a private message. Once I stand up for the target, it doesn’t take long before the person who created the group kicks me out of it. When possible, I send the target a direct message to give them a sign of support. It could mean the world of difference to the target.
Language (10 out of 10)
One of the funniest things on Kik is seeing people using intentionally incorrect spelling. They’re trying to avoid being detected by filters to help identify cyberbullying, sexting and the like. For example, rather than saying that they are looking for sex, they will put spaces between the letters. Another option is to spell words phonetically.
What they fail to realize is that the site has no interest in doing such a thing. Even casual observation by the company would notice how prevalent the problem is and if the company wanted to take action, they could do so easily. Profanity, racial and homophobic slurs are all too common on Kik. As are attacks based on nationality, political beliefs and just about anything else that people can think of to attack.
Nudity (9 out of 10)
This app features plenty of nudity on it, including both pictures and videos. Like most social media apps, users have a profile picture. While many of the accounts have acceptable images, that’s not always the case. Some users include inappropriate images, even of younger children. Kik’s terms and conditions require users to be at least 13 years old and anyone under the age of majority (the age at which a person is considered an adult in their country), they are supposed to get permission from a parent or guardian first. From what I’ve seen, though, this policy is not enforced.
I have seen profile pictures that include close-up images of both male and female genitalia, which are visible to everyone on the app. Each posting is accompanied by a picture, usually a person’s profile picture, but the user has the option of replacing it on any given post.
Further, private chats between users can embed images directly in the conversation. I have seen quite a bit of nudity sent, usually from automated accounts trying to get me to follow a link to have access to even more images. I have also received unsolicited images and videos from people that contain nudity, both of men and women.
My only hope is that the people sending the images are not the people in the images. Considering how common catfishing is on the app, I do not accept anything at face value. I have reported accounts to Kik, but have never seen any actions taken as a result. It is possible that the service took actions without telling me, but I have my doubts. Even if they did, it’s all too easy to simply start a new account with another email address.
Privacy (5 out of 10)
I don’t consider any app/site to be private. That said, Kik scores lower than most simply because of how it works. There is really no expectation of privacy on the app. Users can block individual users from contacting them, but that’s about it. My personal blocked list has several hundred accounts on it.
Sexting (10 out of 10)
Despite what the original or publicly claimed intention was for Kik, it has evolved into essentially a pure sexting app. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on this app and while there are a few people not looking for sexting, I find that the overwhelming majority of users are hoping to find someone for sexting purposes.
Beyond the posting actively looking for people to sext or roleplay with, a innocuous introduction to someone, such as “Hi.” or “How are you?”, can often result in an obscene reply, often with images. Considering the amount of catfishing that happens on the site, who knows if the images are of the actual user. I expect that most are faked.
Sextortion (9 out of 10)
Hand in hand with sexting comes sextortion, the blackmailing of someone to provide nude images/videos. The video below is a very realistic demonstration as to how sextortion starts.
Even sending a picture of a bikini clad teenager can lead to sextortion if it can be used as leverage by the predator against the victim. And while a picture of a teenager in a bra and panties shows about the same as a bikini, the perception is that it’s more risqué, giving more leverage to a predator. For this reason, the best advice is to never send a single picture that would cause problems if seen by any of the Four Ps of social media:
Parents (or other family members. Friends, too)
Principal (or teacher)
Viruses (9 out of 10)
Most of the accounts that I have blocked appear to be automated accounts (bots) to reply to any message sent to them. They typically offer free nude pics to anyone who will follow the link provided. I have never followed any of the links, because it’s one of the easiest ways to allow viruses/malware access to your device.
I can’t say it any plainer than this: just don’t follow any link that you can’t absolutely know it’s origin and destination, no matter where it looks like it might be taking you. For more information, read this article I wrote last July on malware.
Bottom Line (8.4 out of 10)
While it still requires a person to commit inappropriate and unlawful acts online, Kik makes it too easy. Too easy for bullies. Too easy for trolls. Too easy for predators.
Our daughter is getting close to the age where she will be using social media. The legal age for most sites, because of the COPPA Act, is 13. Despite that, most social media apps are being used by children under that age. I’ve already told our daughter that Kik is one app that she will not be allowed to use once she gets online. What does that tell you?
About the Author
Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University, where has been teaching several classes that involve using technology to improve the quality of their schoolwork.
As the founder of Safety Net, Joe provides a variety of presentations on improving online experiences, both in better educational performance and in cybersafety. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that got him involved in helping others in the area.
He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple Against Bullying.
His work on cybersafety has been published by the Family Online Safety Institute, the Social Media Club, Calkins Media and more. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity, which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016 and is currently working on a follow-up book.