SALT LAKE CITY — The new app Yolo, which is the most downloaded iPhone app in the U.K. and United States in recent weeks, is raising questions from parents and critics about how it might affect children.
Yolo is a social media app that allows users to post anonymous questions and answers to their fellow Snapchat friends.
Here’s how it works: Snapchat users create a snap in the app. They use a paper clip icon on the right side, which can enable Yolo. Then, you post that Snap to your story. Friends can then post questions to your Snap. Users receive messages through the Yolo app. Then, users can decide which Yolo questions are posted publicly. It’s pretty similar to how Instagram stories have a questions segment.
But the app has raised questions from parents and experts about the possibility that Yolo might lead to bullying and abuse to children and teenagers.
For example, Andy Burrows of the U.K.'s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children told BBC News that the app could be “easily misused” as people try to send through “abusive or upsetting messages.”
“Snapchat should justify how this app meets their duty of care to children,” he said, according to BBC News.
Protect Young Eyes, a U.S.-based child safety group, said that Yolo might have too low of an age rating, too. The app is currently allowed for children 12 and older.
"Anonymity … has always created a breeding ground for hate and very poor teen decision-making,” the group said in a statement. “The rating is too low at 12+. Do you know many 12-year-olds who consistently make great decisions over the long haul without accountability? Neither do we.”
But here’s the thing: The app actually doesn’t come from Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat. It was made using Snap Kit, which is a software creation platform that does come from Snapchat. The Yolo app actually comes from French startup Popshow Inc.
“While Yolo is not owned or affiliated with Snap in any way, we believe that privacy and security are essential to honest self-expression, and this philosophy is key to every product that we create,” the company's spokesperson said.
“Bullying, harassment and intimidation are a direct violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, and we urge any Snapchatter receiving messages like this to report it to us immediately through our in-app reporting tools.”
The app’s creator Gregoire Henrion isn’t even sure of the app’s success. He told TechCrunch that he didn’t expect it to be so popular, and it wasn’t built to be that way.
“It was not supposed to be a success,” he said. “It was just for us to learn. It went 100% viral.”
But virality comes from pitfalls, as we’ve seen in the past with apps like Ask.fm, Sarahah and Whisper, which were all random viral apps that had their moment in the sun but also raised questions about cyberbullying.
Parents have become fully aware of this issue and another: that Yolo doesn’t actually help with bullying and harassment.
“YOLO warns users that if they send inappropriate or harassing messages, their identities will be revealed, but reviewers who’ve received these types of messages claim this just does not happen. Instead, if a comment is reported for being inappropriate, it simply disappears,” according to LifeHacker.
So what should parents do about Yolo?
Well, it raises a big question. There’s a chance that teens will use this app safely, and issues may not arise.
But there’s still concern for parents and reason for them to monitor the app and how it’s used.Comment on this story
“Still, you should pay close attention to any app that feeds the teenage brain’s craving for peer approval," according to LifeHacker. "Remind your teen that they don’t need validation from people on the internet. If you find that they’re constantly looking it, this may be a sign of a deeper problem.”
And don’t forget to tell them that — as trite as this may sound — words mean something in the modern age, LifeHacker states. Teens should note that their words, even if written anonymously, have consequences. You never know what someone else is going through. You never know what your words could do to someone else.