Popular livestreaming sites have engaged users to broadcast from their phones in real time, causing some parents to chime in on how to best monitor what kids watch—and share—with strangers online.
For example, a popular trend on YouNow.com has kids sending live feeds of themselves sleeping, or playing games like Truth or Dare.
Marilyn Calderon knows the challenges today’s parents face with new technology.
"It’s hard with our 13-year-old," said Calderon. "He’s still wondering, 'Mom, I have two brothers in college… Can I get a cell phone before age 15 or 16?' And the answer’s still absolutely not."
As executive director for Connecticut Parent Power, part of Calderon’s job is to help parents navigate conversations that didn’t exist two decades ago.
"Many [parents] feel like there’s a disconnect and a new culture of not really feeling empathy towards each other, because they see it every day on social media," said Calderon.
Facebook and Twitter have each made efforts to accommodate sensitivity by allowing users to report disturbing content. The sites will review that content and take it offline if they agree.
"That being said, something like livestreaming doesn’t present an instant opportunity to stop something from being featured," said tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar.
Polgar studies how technology shapes our ethics. He says parents need to pay close attention to the growing popularity of livestreaming websites and apps.
Developers initially designed Meerkat and Periscope to give users a new perspective, especially in urgent, breaking news situations.
YouNow created its platform to help facilitate a sense of community. For example, some of its users are bullying victims looking for someone to listen.
But Polgar says, as with any new or popular technology, livestreaming apps will draw some bad actors.
"Obviously the problem is never technology, the problem is how we utilize technology," said Polgar. "A lot of people are going to abuse the livestreaming apps."
Such abuse ranges from discrimination to pornography and harassment. Each site has strict terms against such behavior and urges users to immediately report content that breaks those terms.
The Troubleshooters reached out to YouNow, Meerkat and Periscope. YouNow says they actively monitor the site, adding:
"Trust is a core value of YouNow, and we are committed to the safety of our community. We have strict policies against inappropriate behavior, harassment, and illegal activities.
"YouNow has a multi-layered monitoring system that addresses safety concerns and works to make our community as welcoming as it can be. 24/7 live moderators respond to any issue flagged by the community or detected by our automated systems. In addition, any user can not only flag another user, but completely block them.
"Our broadcasts are monitored 24/7, and any user who is reported not to have met our standards is quickly disciplined. If you are a parent, please visit our Guide for Parents, and for more information on what is and isn’t acceptable, visit Community Standards & Site Rules."
Meerkat says it too responds in real time and issued the following statement:
"The Meerkat community is dynamic and still discovering new ways to use the platform and thankfully we haven’t had many cases of this type of behavior. We make every effort to communicate to our users how the platform works and the controls available to them, so they can decide what they stream on Meerkat, as well as report any concerns within the platform. We are focused on providing a secure platform with a responsive trust and safety team that addresses user concerns in real-time. They are supported by our self-regulating community that constantly monitors for and reports misbehavior on the platform. We value the trust we have developed with our users and strive to protect them at all times."
But as Polgar points out, livestreamed content creates a new dilemma.
"You are completely taking away the ability for gatekeepers to prevent very explicit information from being held," said Polgar. "That being said, this is something we’re realizing is just part of life."
That’s where parents come in, says Calderon. She adds that parenting now involves keeping up with the latest technology and having it join the conversation.
"There’s a balance," said Calderon. "There’s certain things you just have to figure out, like why your child is going on that livestream and why they are trying to draw in a certain number of people to view it. Is it for something positive, can it be translated into something negative and where do you step in as a parent?"