In the big bad world of the Internet, Skout may present the scariest forest of them all for children. The wolf waiting around the bend is no longer hiding in vans or ice cream trucks, but playing with kids on the Internet, waiting to pounce.
Skout is a location-based social networking app for flirting (etc.) with nearby strangers.
After creating a profile — with no step for validating that you are anything more than human — you are immediately taken to a grid of photos informing you of each person’s approximate distance from you. The app’s intended audience was 18 and up, barring minors from the original structure.
The creators soon learned that younger teenagers had finagled their way into the community anyway, and the website decided to create a safer, restricted community for ages 13 to 17.
The problem remained, however, that it is just as easy to pretend to be younger on the Internet as it is to feign older.
Skout has recently been named the connection in three child-rape cases involving older men who allegedly posed as minors and lured two girls, ages 15 and 12, and a 13-year-old boy into meeting them in person.
Does the company, which created the forum, bear any responsibility? Are the parents at fault for not watching the teenagers’ every move?
The company gives consumers what they want. The teenagers wanted in, and found a way. Skout attempted to put walls up to protect the underage members, but they just didn’t work. A portion of the Skout team was designated specifically to the teen portion of the website to monitor conversations, remove nude photos and simply protect the youths from situations just like these.
The teenage sector of the service has since been suspended, pending recommendations from a task force on improving age verification and other safety measures online.
Children are always helping parents and teachers with the ever-evolving world of technology. Terms like “social networking” and “Twitter handle” are foreign, and many parents are unaware of just how many new dangers children face on the Internet.
Advocates emphasize that the key to the dilemma being early education from parents about online safety. No parent can monitor a teen all day, every day, but they can instill the truth from an early age — and warn them of the real wolves lurking in chat rooms pretending to be 14, before it’s too late.
Parents love the fact that they can easily track a child’s GPS-enabled phone and that new drivers won’t get lost. But if you can find the children, so can other people.