Social Media and Whatsapp

Understanding Social Media and Whatsapp

WhatsApp is an instant messaging service. It lets users who have downloaded the apps on to their smartphones send messages to each other at a very low cost, as the only fees incurred are for data usage. The messages can be text, photos, videos or even voice messages. As long as one person has the other person’s number and both parties have the app installed, messages can be sent and received. WhatsApp users can have one-on-one chats or group chats with multiple people.

Is it safe?

Yes and no. WhatsApp is “safe” in that messages are encrypted, meaning that if you send any type of message the only person who can view it is the recipient. What does that mean? Nobody can intercept and read the messages (unless they have your phone in their hand, of course!), including the police, government or people trying to hack into WhatsApp. In fact, not even WhatsApp themselves can read the messages.

It also doesn’t offer open chatrooms like kids could find on MXit and similar apps a few years ago, so there is less chance of your kids talking to people they don’t know with WhatsApp.

While this protects WhatsApp users to a degree, it certainly doesn’t mean the app is safe for your kids to use freely.

What are the risks?

Any child with a smartphone can gain access to WhatsApp, where they can then talk freely to anyone with the app who has their number or whose number they have. On top of that, any person who has saved your child’s phone number can see their profile picture and status updates via the app, which could be a cause for concern. Technically, WhatsApp doesn’t allow anybody under the age of 16 to use the app, but it is very easy to just enter a fake birthdate when registering for the service.

Of course, your main concern is that your child will be chatting to undesirable characters, as with any social networking service. In short – yes, it is possible for child predators to add your child on WhatsApp, pose as a teen and chat to them, and even coerce them into sending photos or meeting up.

However, anybody wanting to chat with your child would have to have their phone number first, and if your child does not recognise the number, they will have the option to block or accept the contact upon receiving the first message. As mentioned earlier, WhatsApp does allow for users to easily block people from contacting them, and while they can be added to group chats with unknown people, users can also remove themselves from these chats. This video gives you some handy information on the block feature, so that if your child asks questions about blocking someone – like ‘can they see I’ve blocked them though?’, you’ll be fully prepared!

Bear in mind that if you decide to monitor your child’s phone from time to time, they can also delete messages or entire chats, so you may not get an accurate idea of what your child or teen is up to on the app. Because of this, it’s very important to ensure your children understand that they should only accept and respond to messages from numbers they know or can easily verify. Having an open and honest line of communication with your kids and educating them about the dangers of online networking can often be the best tool in preventing any dangerous situations from occurring.