Cliona Curley, Programme Director at CyberSafeIreland, reflects on a newly emerging app which is gaining popularity among pre-teens.
A child first mentioned the Houseparty app to me about 6 weeks ago. Since then we’ve noticed a steady increase in its popularity, especially among kids in 6th class, who are always on the watch for the latest thing. According to its Terms & Conditions, you should be at least 13 years old to use the app. However there is no age verification on signup.
Houseparty is a social media app which offers little more than video chat. Friends start chats or “parties” with each other via live video. If I start a chat with my friend Jane, then all of my friends will see that chat and can jump in. The same applies to anyone on Jane’s friends list. Once somebody joins the chat, all of their friends will then see the chat happening. When someone you don’t know enters a party, you get a warning about stranger danger.
It’s quite limited in what it can do, so the stranger danger “party” element of it is likely to be the most attractive element to children, and they will likely end up chatting to people they don’t know. Users can send links to their party on the app via a text message to whomever they want. Children might respond to links sent by others that they don’t know.
The app could be used for bullying, as is the case with all social media and messaging apps. Specific to this app though, there might be higher risks of a child feeling excluded where they can see that all of their friends are in a locked chat at the same time. There are also options to “ghost” so that your friends don’t automatically know when you are “in the house”, i.e. available to chat.
The video is live so there may be a higher risk of children sharing personal information or otherwise inappropriate content. There is no way of reviewing what has been said afterwards. You can also see profile information for anyone who is using the app and this cannot be made private. Although there doesn’t currently seem to be a recording facility, anyone could take a screenshot or video with another device and chats could end up being shared publicly.
Children could also witness harmful or inappropriate chat.
Our Top Tips for using Houseparty
- Users can limit video chat to their direct connections by locking the party. If your child has set up a chat, they should “lock” it so that only their friends can enter the chat.
- If they are entering a chat that a friend has set up, they will get a warning if someone not on their contact list has joined the party. Create a rule around them leaving a chat if a stranger comes into it and agree that they can’t join chats which include people that they don’t know. Keep an eye on this by checking out previous parties which will be listed under the “parties” tab.
- Talk about the lack of privacy on social media. They may say something as a joke or without thinking, but if it gets recorded by someone else (e.g. using the video camera on another device), it could end up online. Remind them as often as possible how their words and actions online can impact on others.
- Review their profile to ensure that they don’t use a real photo, or include full name or date of birth in their username.
- Talk about what they should do if they see or hear something mean, or something that worries or upsets them and remind them that they can also come to you.
- Ensure that they know how to block/report/unfriend other users if necessary. This can be done by tapping on the username and selecting the relevant option. To get a Houseparty account deactivated, email the support team on firstname.lastname@example.org.