If you follow the tech space and/or are a Facebook user, you’ve probably heard some exciting news that the company announced regarding integration of video chat through Skype. This social network behemoth, boasting 750 million active users, now offers a new service that will enable any Facebook user to instantly video chat with a member of his or her network. While many tech pundits think that this service is long overdue, many parents with teenage Facebook users in the house may be wary of what kinds of risks this new service will bring.
At the press conference announcing the Skype partnership, Facebook’s Philip Su said, “Your least technical friend can get online and connected," demonstrating the ease-of-use and the one-click functionality of the service. Great, it’s user-friendly, but what does this mean for teens, as well as the 7.5 million underage Facebook users out there?
As with social networks in general and kids, it can be a slippery slope. While you can see your kids’ friends in the offline world and have a pretty good sense of who they hang out with, the online world is a whole different ballgame. There are several products that monitor kids’ Facebook accounts, but with the new Skype feature, a video chat is simply a few clicks away. This can be great technology for anyone who wants to connect with friends and family near and far, but for those who have less-than-genuine interests at heart, Facebook is making it pretty easy to engage in risky behavior.
A couple months ago, I covered a free online service called MinorMonitor which helps parents keep a keen eye on their kids’ Facebook accounts. After conversing with their children and gaining access to their Facebook accounts, parents can immediately begin scanning for suspicious behavior, profane words, alerts, photos or messages. The information is clearly presented on a parental dashboard to give a quick overview of what’s happening online. Since this service is aimed specifically at parents of Facebook users, I reached out to the company to see what their thoughts are on the Skype integration. Mike Betron, director of marketing at Infoglide, the company that created MinorMonitor warns parents that they need to be “ever more vigilant when it comes to communicating risks to their children and monitoring their activities.”
Shawn Edgington, author of The Parent's Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World, finds both risk and reward with the integration. Although she doesn’t think it will benefit kids under 15 who can make “dumb mistakes” with the video chat, several of the benefits and privacy filters she recognizes are that kids can only use this new feature with those they’ve accepted as friends, unlike using Skype as a standalone service that lets you connect with anyone. She also ponders if face-to-face chatting will cut down on cyberbullying since this kind of visual contact could have an impact on the gang warfare mentality that often occurs on social networks.
Regardless of any potential benefit, there is still definite risk involved. Betron and Edgington offer the following tips for parents to be mindful of with the new video feature:
- Discuss the dangers of communicating with strangers online. This is a good reason to use an offering like MinorMonitor to ensure your child’s friends are not dangerous or predatory.
- Remind your child that what they say and do in a video conference can be recorded and sent to anyone
- Monitor the usage of your child’s video chatting
- Make sure your kid’s personal details remain personal, especially when allowing visual access to their personal space
- Don’t let kids add pictures to their profiles
- Drill into kids that video chatting with friends they don’t know in real life is unacceptable
Edgington recommends a product called ComputerCop “as a parental Internet monitoring tool that works forensically by searching for key words and phrases without invading their child’s privacy.”
And although MinorMonitor doesn’t currently offer a way to monitor video chats, Betron adds, “If and when Facebook provides developer/API access to their Facebook/Skype offering, we will aggressively pursue incorporating this into MinorMonitor.”
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