My client's mother gave me permission to tell this story because she wants this message “yelled from the rooftops." Although the mom considered herself on top of her child’s technology use, she was completely blindsided.
Her tween did not have any social media and was only allowed texting on the phone's built in messaging app. The daughter asked to download the app iFunny, “an app to find funny memes, joke and gifs to share in text messages.”
From Google Play: "iFunny – fresh memes, gifs and videos. Love and iFunny - the only two things you can enjoy without being good at. And if for some reason you are not having much of the first one you can still indulge yourself in the world of fun."
The app actually functions like social media, users can upload their own content and have subscribers (friends). There is no way to make the account private, so kids are communicating with strangers. The chat rooms within the app frequently have "friends" soliciting pictures, and contain links to porn sites that open within the app.
The tween thought she was communicating with a peer, when actually it was a predator who pressured her and succeeded in obtaining naked pictures. Law enforcement is working on locating the person she was communicating with, however, the predator has not been located. The contact information listed on the site was incorrect.
It’s so important to research the apps your kids are using and completely understand the capabilities prior to downloading. Sometimes the name of the app can be deceiving.
Here's what to check
- Read the description of the app and check the age rating on Google Play or The App Store
- Visit the app or developer's website (the link should be in the App Store or Google Play description)
- Google reviews of the app to see what others are saying
- Check websites that are specific to reviewing apps. like Common Sense Media or Protect Young Eyes
- Download the app yourself and use it
I decided to check out iFunny and within a few minutes found: “iFunny rating is Mature 17+, lots of rude and inappropriate content.”
Although some of the jokes and memes are funny, they also can be inappropriate, and contain sexual and violent messages. Also, my client's parents reported that they were unable to cancel their child's profile on the app. They were told they have to contact the company to deactivate the profile for them.
The moral of the story: Do your research and use the app yourself. The app's name might not be painting a clear picture of its capabilities. You make sure to lock your doors and windows to keep strangers out, don't let strangers in through technology.
Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW
I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.