What is VSCO?
Parents in Cork expressed outrage today, following the discovery of a number of young Cork girls sharing images on a image sharing platform called VSCO. The self-generated, or user-generated content was described as inappropriate by those who viewed the imagery. VSCO is an image sharing site. It is frequently used by professional photographers, as it offers superior methods of photo and video editing for their content. The platform is in existence for some time. It boasts well in excess of 40 million users. The concept of the platform is to encourage photography. VSCO has a predominantly artistic look and feel, to the majority of the images you find posted on the platform.
The App has a 13 years or over age rating. The user has a profile, where they can upload images or short video. There are a variety of filters and editing tools available to edit the uploaded media. These editing tools are far superior to those available on Instagram and Snapchat. What the platform does appear to lack, are privacy settings. By default, location information is be stored in the metadata of the images. This information can be used to identify, exactly where the image was taken.
Irish Teens and Social Media
Irish teens use a variety of different platforms, to create and share content. It would be an overreaction, to behave like villagers treating this is a monster site, due to the images children have posted. Teens are replicating the same behaviour of posting inappropriate images of themselves, on multiple platforms. Our initial “torch the place” reaction, is futile and achieves nothing. It is far more important to address the individual behaviour, rather than taking an easier option, of just applying the blame to the App.
Each App or platform has a specific purpose. However, teens can create and share content on a platform, outside of use of what the platform of initially set up for. However, every platform has a duty to protect children from being exploited. Permitting the hosting, exchange, or posting of child exploitation imagery is not acceptable. If this type of content is identified, it should be reported and removed immediately. Parents have to be aware, what might be socially unacceptable in Ireland, may be acceptable where the site is hosted.
Why would a child would post sexualized images of themselves?
So that leaves the question, why would a child would post sexualized images of themselves? That answer requires an older generation, to understand a younger generation are interacting with each other online. Some teens can percieve their level of popularity among their peers, as the number of Friends or Followers they have on Social Media. Children are being exposed to this world, at a younger and younger age. It has an influence on them, as does the online validation they receive from others. The rules of what is acceptable are changing all the time, espicially online. Parents have to also be conscious of, the enormous power online validation from others has. Children, teens and adults, give and receive an incredible abount of online validation for content they create and share.
For some, online validation can be a powerful motivation to produce even more online content. Eventually the need can arise to create riskier images, in order to attain the same level of exposure and feedback among peers. A mistaken belief, popularity is achievable through the exposure of more private, personal or inappropriate imagery. Another mistaken belief common among parents, children and teens frequently share, is that their content is private.
Old Vs New Generation
Our generation is struggling to comprehend the online world more and more and there is a good reason for that. We have nothing in our own experience from which we can draw a comparison. Without this experience, very often we end up with the nuclear option in our pattern of thinking, which is to attack the platform as opposed to attempting to understand and address the behaviour. We have to be mindful of this technophobe bias, as it can make our generation appear like we don't understand this generation. We can't make the mistake of using examples like, when I was growing up, no one did anything like that on Bebo.
So how do we address this? The online world is changing rapidly. Parents are still attempting to grasp what Snapchat and Instagram are, while the kids have ventured miles further and deeper. We have to start parenting online. You need to see where they are in this world, what they are doing and who they are doing it with, just like you would in the real world.
Teens and parents have this mistaken belief privacy settings are the answer. They certainly help, but you can't rely on them, because of what the online world is. It is online. Private by definition means just for me. No one else. If you want something to remain private, put it in a box, then put the box under your bed, never online. If you share a compromising private image with one person online, it is a grave mistake to believe the image is will remain private.
Self Generated Sexualized Imagry
There has been a steady increase in the quantity of sexualized images, created by young people and shared with others online. Speaking to those, who have posted these types of images, when asked, why they felt it was ok to do this? The reply is often along the lines of, “everyone does that now”, “the attention made me feel special”, “I wanted more followers”, “you can become more intimate with people”, “there's nothing wrong with them”.
A couple of common themes emerge, the need for a connection and online validation from others The normalisation of an otherwise, abnormal behaviour. Children will not know, sharing sexualized images is not appropriate, unless someone teaches them. They also have little or no perception of just how privacy void the online world actually is. More worryingly they can't see down the road to the day, their online reputation will impact their future job and college prospects for the rest of their lives.
Advice for Parents
Our advice is to sit down with your child and go through every App on their device, if they do not meet the required age limit, delete the App. Enable the privacy settings to ensure the maximum level of privacy on the App. All friends or followers must pass our rule of touch. In other words, the child must have been able to touch the person on the shoulder. If not, this is a stranger. Now install the Free Parental Control App Google Family Link on both devices. This give a parent an incredible amount of control over the child or teens device. Parents must be part of the lives of their children and young adults online. Both will make mistakes online and they need to know that if they do it is ok to come to you, or someone they trust to tell them.
The online world children and teens exist in now, is unlike anything we as adults could even imagine. This generation will eventually decide the guidelines needed, on how to safeguard children online. It will be based on their current trials and errors with the technology. Until then, parents should offer guidance to their children and teens. Teach them about online validation, how to have resilience for the more negative aspects, of the online world they will encounter. We have are of the most active companies in Ireland educating people, about all that is good an bad in the online world. Perhaps it might be time to consider requesting that we visit your company, local community or schools.