This App Turns Teens Into Stars, Gives Parents Nightmares

Apr 14, 2015 at 3:12 pm |
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Does everybody want to be famous?

That seems to be the trend for today’s most popular apps, which, while constantly bringing us closer together, also allow us to create and promote our own personal brands. We’ve seen this over the past few years from Myspace to Facebook, and then the trend got even more serious with instantaneous mobile apps like Twitter, Vine, and Instagram.

The latest trend, even more constant than the others and not restricted to 160 characters or less (talk about the Dark Ages), is live broadcasting.

And one of the most popular ones of the moment, more directed at teens than Meerkat or Periscope, is YouNow.

The name says it all. YouNow is all about you, all about your name, life, and personal brand, from the most mundane to the newest, ephemeral viral hits. After merging with BlogTV in 2013, the app is wildly popular with millennials, spanning from young adults to young teenagers, thereby covering a wide array of subject matter.

In my first 10 minutes of watching, I was subjected to various midwestern teenagers. One girl applied makeup and discussed her ambitions to work at the mall while also talking about her self-destructive behavior (prostitution and the STD she caught) in high school after her parents divorced and left her with relatives. Another boy with gauge earrings managed to be appallingly racist and sexist at the same time as fans viewing his stream cheered him on in the live comments feed.

The general gist of every stream seemed to quickly escalate to, “If you don’t like what I’m doing, get out of my broadcast,” plus or minus a few expletives.

Not only does YouNow allow teens and other users to climb up on their own soapbox from the comfort of their beds, but it boosts their social media following as well, which is typically a millennial’s biggest indicator of self worth. In order to use the app fully, you need to sign up using Facebook, Google Plus, or another form of social media. Many users constantly promote their other accounts and pages while interacting with the other viewers, showing off their talents (I saw several backflips), or singing along to their favorite music (I quickly exited a screamo broadcast). The live streamers can also be rewarded with gold bars, likes, and new fan followers from adoring audience members.

What sets YouNow apart from other live streaming apps is how easy it is to use and how tricky it can be to abuse. From what I gathered, broadcasts are closely monitored by moderators or “mods” who can expel rowdy viewers and disable explicit content… though I’m sure it happens anyway.

YouNow also allows its broadcasters to use hashtags to discuss certain topics within larger video forums, as well as see who’s trending the most at a given moment. These range from #music and #dance to #truthordare, which is certain to raise a few eyebrows.

So what’s there to be worried about?

At the end of the day, it’s a tale as old as time – or maybe just as old as webcams. Like a myriad of other apps on the market today, YouNow allows teenagers to invite just about anybody into their homes, into their bedrooms, and into their private lives. Still, the application prohibits users under the age of 13 (because no one lies about their age), strictly controls explicit content, and makes it very easy for users to contact a mod when questionable behavior occurs.

The new “talk” between parents and kids these days should be less about birds and bees or riding in cars with boys, and more about taking (and sharing) that picture, or clicking ‘Go Live’ on their preferred broadcasting app. The typical dangers facing families and children are no longer outside the home, but hiding inside on their phones and screens.

Still, social media and live broadcasting shouldn’t be demonized, so long as people know how to use them.

YouNow might be the hottest live streaming app of the moment, but how safe is it?