The popular flirting app, Skout, has temporarily shut down its under-18 services after reports of three men that raped children while posing as teenagers through the app.
Fifteen million people had downloaded and signed up to use the flirting app and mobile social network. According the Wall Street Journal, about 15% of those users were teens, ages 13 to 17.
According to the Huffington Post, a 15-year-old Ohio girl says she was raped by a 37-year-old man, a 12-year-old in Escondido, Calif. was allegedly raped by a 24-year-old man and a 13-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old man from Waukesha, Wis.
The cases, once again, raise questions regarding how safe social media is for teenagers and bring to the forefront the unfortunate dangers of the Internet.
Users of the app can search for people nearby and then chat to them through a built-in messaging service. Skout currently has around 10 million users and has grown drastically in just three years. Users can also give virtual gifts and send pictures.
Now, the question many are asking is: Could Skout have prevented the situation with better technology or better policies? One of the steps being taken by Skout to prevent abuses of the app is a “creepinator,” according to the Daily Mail.
They are also considering other approaches including verifying a user’s identity against their profiles on other services, or verifications from people in a new user’s social network, sort of like a background check.
This is not the first case of this type of online sexual predation. Hobbo Hotel, a site that allows children to design virtual hotels has been found to be filled with pornographic sexual chat between users.
In December last year, Matthew Leonard, 21, from Billericay, Essex was jailed for seven years for a string of online child sex offences after using the game to contact most of his 80 victims.
The youngest was just 10 years old.
It’s important for children under 18 who engage in social media websites to understand the dangers of online predators. Talk to your children about Internet safety when using social networking and talking to strangers online.