Anonymous Q&A apps are just another one of those frustrating trends that teens are participating in that parents don’t know about. Here, we explain how anonymous Q&A apps work, and what parents can do about them.
Written by Cyber Expert:
Anonymous Q&A apps have risen in popularity over the past year, however, they seem to be a very foreign concept to many parents. One of the more popular versions of this app, YOLO, was released in May of 2019, and in a single month had over 5 million downloads, rocketing to the #1 trending app in the US a week after its launch. In July this year, YOLO saw one million new users sign up to the platform.
Looking at their app descriptions, Anonymous Q&A apps like to position themselves as a ‘fun and spontaneous way to get honest and genuine messages’. Though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that teens don’t often stick to their manners when it comes to anonymous communication online.
The purpose of anonymous Q&A apps is to either send a question or statement anonymously, or ask a question to others without showing your identity. So young people might want to pose a question to a random audience such as ‘How do you know if you are gay?’, and people can answer either showing their identity or answer anonymously.
In other instances, a person might post a question on their Snapchat, and their contacts can answer anonymously. For example, I might post a question on my account for my friends to see, such as ‘Does anyone have a crush on me?’, and people might respond with ‘Yes, I do!’. Two things to note about this though. One is that I wouldn’t know the identity of the person who responded. Secondly, it's unlikely that the response will be as coy as I have written. It’s commonplace for responses to be much raunchier, or on the other hand completely nasty.
Sometimes these apps are standalone apps, such as Whisper or AskFM, whereas other times they are exclusively used in conjunction with another social media app, such as YOLO being used as a Q&A function within Snapchat.
Well, the truth is that anonymity online usually lends itself to cyberbullying, harassment, or unsolicited inappropriate content. For teens, in particular, anonymous Q&A is synonymous with crude comments or blatant trolling, so it’s rare that a teen will engage in an anonymous Q&A interaction and come out better on the other side of it. For example, in 2020, YOLO has become an infamous vehicle for cyberbullying, with many schools facing the issue of not being able to identify the perpetrator. The lack of accountability for negative online behavior does nothing to quell it then.
For teens who are using the app for less sinister purposes, such as seeking support for difficult questions, the app still opens them up to people who give unhelpful or extreme advice. For example, there had been an incident of a young person who was questioning his sexuality and posted in an anonymous Q&A forum. He was then approached by a stranger who initially provided support and empowerment for his journey, but then soon turned to grooming the boy by using his prior support to exploit the boy’s trust.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. If a young person is vigilant with their personal safety and is emotionally resilient, anonymous Q&A platforms can be navigated safely. Prior to jumping on platforms such as this though, I recommend that parents talk to their children about people’s agendas when it comes to cyberbullying or trolling, and get them to think critically about people’s motivations when on anonymous platforms. For an adolescent who is responsible and resilient in the online world, they should be able to navigate these platforms safely.
However, for teens who aren’t quite there yet, we recommend parents block these types of apps or websites. Generally, we suggest that teens 14 and under do not have the essential cognitive and emotional development to navigate these platforms safely.
You can use parental control tools to block these apps and platforms, or restrict downloads from the app store so that young people require a password (set by you) to download these apps. Instructions for how to activate parental control tools and manual settings for safeguarding devices can be found throughout this hub.
What parents need to know.
Age-appropriate app reviews and recommendations from the experts.
How to deal with digital break‑downs.