When I read about the rape cases tied to the use of the teen community of Skout, a social networking app designed to let people find people nearby to make “new friends or activity partners,” I was mortified.
Yet I was also not at all surprised. But I am surprised that so many other people are surprised.
Think about it: It’s an app designed for flirting — a location-based app for flirting. So, for instance, a bunch of bored 13-year-olds can pull out their smart phones and find other “teens” looking to meet-up. Maybe it’s really a teen, or maybe it’s an adult posing as a teen, which is the case in the three rape cases.
Whether Skout would allow my 13-year-old to meet a 17-year-old or a 27-year-old really makes little difference to me. The app is the equivalent of letting your kids stand along the highway holding up a sign that says, “Flirt with me.” Anybody can pick him or her up.
It makes me wonder: How did we go from “Stranger Danger” to “Flirt with me” in just a few years? When did we decide that it’s okay for kids to flirt with strangers and then share their locations? Just because technology allows us to do things we couldn’t do before doesn’t mean we should hand it over to our kids and say “Have at it.”
Skout has since closed down its teen community with an announcement on its blog, called, naturally, “The Flirt Blog.” Skouts owners seem genuinely disturbed that a few pedophiles have used their app to hurt children. But they also seem surprised. And that surprises me.
I will appear on Nightline to talk about social media apps for teens, maybe tonight, maybe next week.