Photo: YOLO

There’s a new app called YOLO that’s hugely popular among teens. Just a week after its release, it has become the most downloaded iPhone app in the U.S. It’s a free add-on feature for Snapchat—when users connect YOLO to their accounts, they can add a sticker to their Snapchat Story that invites their followers to give them feedback or ask them questions anonymously. Then, if they choose, the users can respond to those questions in their Stories. Think of it as an anonymous comment box about your life. “It’s so fun and exciting to see what people have to say about you,” one reviewer on iTunes writes.

As you might imagine, not all of the comments are like the one featured in YOLO’s sample screenshot: “You look so cute! What’s your secret?” Some reviewers have said the social media app “is full of bullying” and “has started so much drama.” There’ve been reports that the safeguards designed to protect users from harassment do not work, and the support team has not been responding to flagged content.

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Parents, if your teen is using this app, here is what you should know.

Who made YOLO?

The app was created by French start-up Popshow, Inc. using the Snap Kit platform for third-party developers. Creator Gregoire Henrion tells Techcrunch that the growth of YOLO is totally organic—there’s been no marketing, and yet it’s currently ranked above Snapchat itself on the iTunes free apps chart.

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Doesn’t this type of app sound familiar?

You may be thinking you’ve seen this before and that’s because yes, there have been a number of “honesty” apps that let teens receive the peer feedback they crave, anonymously. Early platforms included Ask.fm, Curious Cat, Yik Yak, Whisper and Secret. Later, we saw Sarahah and TBH. High schoolers love these types of apps and often use them as a source of validation—it’s nice to receive an anonymous comment that your hair looked great today or that you gave a killer speech in class. Henrion tells Techcrunch that his team believes “anonymity can unlock super good behaviors.”

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This may be true on some level, but anonymous apps are also “notorious hubs for cyberbullying,” according to Common Sense Media. Just about all of the major ones have crashed and burned after being overwhelmed by instances of inappropriate use. Josh Ochs, the founder of digital safety resource Safe Smart Social, has said these types of apps “can bring out the worst in some tweens and teens” and that they’re, as a rule, “not good for human nature.” Burnbook, an app named after Mean Girls’ famed pink tome of school gossip, prompted school closures in Oregon, Texas and California after students reported receiving violent threats.

What are the major concerns about YOLO?

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.

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People have also raised concerns about privacy—YOLO’s terms of service state that the app may “collect and store personal information” including your name, phone number, email address, password, photo or avatar and location, though this is standard language. Online safety group Protect Young Eyes believes that YOLO’s age rating is too low at 12+, writing in a review, “Do you know many 12-year-olds who consistently make great decisions over the long haul without accountability? Neither do we.”

What should you do if your teen uses the app?

YOLO is similar to the “Questions” sticker on Instagram, which can be fun and relatively harmless. It’s possible that your teen will be able to use the app safely. Still, you should pay close attention to any app that feeds the teenage brain’s craving for peer approval. 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.

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Also, tell them that their words have power, even if they are anonymous, and that it’s important to think about any possible consequences before they type. Encourage them to talk to you if they are ever being bullied, online or off.

When it comes to online safety, every family must figure out guidelines that work for them. If your teens get to play a part in creating their own rules, they’ll be much more likely to follow them.

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