Last year I mentioned Periscope, Meerkat, and YouNow as three apps that parents should be familiar with. At the time, Meerkat (now defunct) and Periscope were fairly new. People using the apps at that time were the early adopters. But now, live streaming has gone mainstream, especially now that Facebook is in on the action with Facebook Live. And, live streaming is attracting a younger audience due to live.ly, from the makers of popular app musical.ly.
It’s important for parents to be aware of these apps and services due to the risks involved with live streaming. Now that live streaming is more widely available, it is also more likely that tweens and teens will get involved, especially when part of the apps they already use. Incorporating live streaming into their existing products makes it easier for these companies to compete and gain traction, since they come with an existing fan base.
Risks of lives streaming
What are the risks of live streaming? It depends on whether you are the one watching, or the one sharing.
What you might see
I’ve heard of at least two incidences of a death being shown on a live streaming feed on Facebook Live. With live video, anything goes. There is no editing involved as there might be with a news segment on TV, or even a YouTube video posted after an event takes place.
“Any live video service has the potential to show something terrible — and when Facebook has over 1.6 billion active users every month, that potential is stronger than usual.” (From Engadget).
While a few of these shocking scenarios have been reported, the majority of live streaming action is more mundane, a window into the average person’s life. Personally I have encountered everything from drug use, profanity, and nudity. But on the plus side I’ve also watched some great live music from unknown artists, and even some known artists (Seal performing live on the streets of Manchester, UK).
Part of the excitement of any live event is that anything can happen. Teens like that thrill aspect.
What you might share
The perceived intimacy of live streaming could lead teens – or anyone, for that matter – to share too much personal information. Even if you don’t give out your real name, you could be giving away your identity or location in other ways. I’ve seen girls live streaming from their bedrooms. This seems a little too private.
Additionally, for those services with limited privacy controls, you don’t know who is watching. You might assume you’re just chatting to some peers, but you can never know for sure who is logged on.
Most of these apps allow the viewers to like and comment. This is again an “anything goes” area. You might get feedback you weren’t quite ready for, or even bullying comments. I watched a stream where a commenter asked two teens to expose their breasts (they didn’t).
What you’re missing out on
Like a lot of apps it is easy to get sucked into the voyeuristic void when perusing people’s lives streams. There is always the concern of spending too much time on screens and not enough time away from them.
Apps and sites that now provide or offer live streaming
In addition to Periscope and YouNow which I covered earlier, here are some other entries in the live streaming scene, from apps that are already popular with kids and teens:
Live.ly – from the makers of musical.ly, an app that is wildly popular with the tween set. While a separate app, the same username can be used in Live.ly for live streaming to any of your existing followers from musical.ly.
Facebook – incorporated right into your news feed, everyone from friends, family, celebs are live streaming. A Facebook Live map lets you see who is live streaming around you, or anywhere in the word.
Tumblr – Tumblr introduced live feeds in June, but rather than hosting the streaming video on their platform, they’ve partnered with existing video services, including YouNow and YouTube, for publishing live to Tumblr.
YouTube – YouTube announced in June that it will bring live streaming directly to their mobile app. I haven’t heard much about it since then so I don’t think it’s been rolled out to the masses. With so many kids watching YouTube videos, this will be one to look out for.
Are there benefits of Live Streaming?
If I’m going to talk about risks, I should mention benefits too.
For businesses, celebrities and even bloggers wishing to engage with their customers and fans in a highly engaging way, live streaming allows for that personalized communication. Businesses are always trying to guess at the “next big thing” and many took to Periscope, Blab (now also defunct), and now Facebook Live.
These services aren’t just for established celebrities, as we’ve seen regularly everyday people gaining celebrity status through live streaming (hello Chewbacca Mom!) The internet at its best is a tool that can help bring people closer, across distances, to connect in ways that weren’t possible just a few years ago. Did I mention earlier I got to sit and watch a live Seal concert at the spur of the moment? That was pretty cool. I encountered people teaching meditation, and a few worship services as well.
So like most apps and services, there is some good along with bad and iffy.
With these risks and benefits in mind, you might ask your kids about live streaming apps. Are they using them? Just watching, or live streaming their own lives? Are you okay with this? If they are under 13, they are too young for these apps according to terms of service anyway. If over 13, they still might not be ready and you’ll want to at least check the privacy settings of the apps in question, and talk about what is okay to share, and what is not okay. With live streaming becoming a standard feature in many popular apps, chances are your kids will be introduced to live streaming soon, if they haven’t already.