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Chat With Us! Or, If You Prefer, Just Read Our Show Notes


Just like almost everyone else on Planet Earth, we've been using communication apps and platforms more than ever over the past year—Zoom, Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, you name it.


That’s why we’ve brought back our Cyberwise Chats—on Zoom and Facebook Live. Held at noon (PST) on the first Tuesday the month, these interactive chats give me a chance to talk with Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and Rick Andreoli, Editor-In-Chief of Parentology, about the top tech topics of the day. Best part of using these platforms is that they allow our chats to be interactive, we can take and respond to questions as they happen. So we really hope you will join us for the next one—Instagram for Kids Under 13: Good or Bad Idea?


We make extensive notes before each of these chats and sometimes I even have time to clean them up a bit to share. So if you missed “Chat Apps: Clubhouse, Omegle, and More,” here you go!


SHOW NOTES


Introduction


Diana: We settled on this topic because we found the sudden popularity of Clubhouse particularly interesting. Clubhouse is an audio-only social platform where users enter different “rooms” to listen in on or participate in conversations. At the moment, Clubhouse is an iPhone-only app, and you can only use it if you’re invited by another user. Despite these limitations, at barely a year old the app has been downloaded nearly 13 million times. Elon Musk helped popularize the app when he used it to interview Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev about GameStop (now there’s a room to be in). Other A-Listers have hosted rooms on Clubhouse too, including Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, as well as a slew of various experts. In a year when most live events, professional conferences, job fairs and more have been cancelled, many adults are turning to Clubhouse to satisfy that urge to rub elbows and network with others.


The interesting thing about Clubhouse is that is used primarily by adults (a kid told me that’s because there is no dancing on it!).


Question: What is it about Clubhouse that has made it so popular so fast?


Pam: Clubhouse is like the LinkedIn version of WhatsApp, or being embedded in a verbal Twitter stream or participatory podcasts. This unstructured approach has an appeal at a time when people’s media habits are increasingly governed by algorithms, making it hard to bump into something new.


It can be a place to find people with like interests if you’re extroverted enough to find them. It is an extrovert’s paradise. But I’d argue that innate human drives are fueling its popularity, not lofty intellectualism. Curiosity works at several levels. First, anything that is exclusive makes you curious and want to be “in” rather than “out.” Exclusivity works to drive interest and then give you a sense of superiority for being “in.”


Other levels of curiosity are more insidious (and more human) - Why is that person a moderator? Is he/she “important” or just self-promoting? Who are they connected to? What clubs do they belong to? You can go down some serious rabbit holes this way.


Serendipity is appealing. The most effective means of behavior change is unpredictable rewards. Clubhouse is alike a giant slot machine - you just never know what you’ll find but early famous users have created some expectations/hopes that you have a chance to meet influential people

Audio only is an antidote to Zoom fatigue (no hair brushing required, pj’s ok), illusion of panels of experts (e.g. on the stage), audio transmits emotions, mobile and portable (walk the dog), the new “radio,” It allows for voyeurism (eavesdropping with permission).


Things to Know:

  • Drive to monetize, build followers, lead generation, deliver “value” to create relationships, create clubs and rooms. Lots of talk about building audiences (which means social authority), lots of people pimping their services.

  • If you sign up, and someone in your address book is a member, they will be notified that you need an invite.

  • You are supposed to use your real name, so they don’t let you change your handle more than once.

  • You can listen without being heard but your pic and name show.

  • You can click “leave quietly” to leave the room without quitting the app.

  • You can find newbie how-to discussions on how to get followers and start rooms and clubs.

  • You can’t text someone in Clubhouse. Clubhouse is connected to Twitter and Instagram, so the conversations can flow across. People will ask you to DM them in Instagram

  • You can search by name, interest, club or even by emoji you use in your profile,

  • Bio writing is a big deal with some people getting paid to optimize Clubhouse bios.

  • Forewarned is forearmed. Evidence of abuse, misogyny, antisemitism, racism even though they are against guidelines.

  • You can’t record within Clubhouse, but there are lots of workarounds, so don’t count on privacy, just like ALL social media.

Question: There is another social media platform that seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity: Omegle. What is it? Is it like a Clubhouse for kids?


Rick: Omegle used to have an app but now it is online only. Here’s how it works: A person goes in, decides if they want to do video or text chat from the two big blue buttons on the page, and then Omegle will randomly start choosing strangers from all over the world for you to meet.


Allegedly this is a monitored area, but we could never get confirmation from Omegle on that. Also, right in the center is an area marked for Adults. You click that, click a pop up that “verifies” you’re 18, and then you’re in. This is the unmoderated section, and the warning states very clearly that you will be exposed to sexual material - which is usually a person giving an adult show.


Diana: I took one for the team and tried Omegle last night, it was so easy to use it is disturbing. Nothing to download you just hit chat or text… easy to access the adult only version too. I saw straight-up pornography. Cannot imagine a child being exposed to this.


Pam: Yes, there are issues, men and teens looking for sexual stimulation, trolls, lots of users who swear, talk about any subject they want, expose body parts, share links to questionable material, ask for personal information such as e-mail addresses or Facebook profile, or demand chat/webcam sex. For any child, or teens that aren't responsible or who aren’t equipped with common sense, Omegle can be downright dangerous. For responsible ones, it might be fun.


Global child protection groups are increasingly concerned about predators using the site to gather self-generated child sexual abuse material.


This is one that takes a more nuanced approach to parenting. The appeal suggests that kids will try to use it, most likely with their friends (safety in numbers) because it seems “risky.” Saying no just makes it more appealing.


ADVICE:


Take the direct approach - Talk with kids about your worries and explore how kids might handle different scenarios - in other words, role play.


Question: Why Do Kids Like Omegle?


  1. Kids are drawn to it through other social media, because they see reaction videos on YouTube or other sites and it looks fun. (Almost like a #challenge)

  2. Influencers are using it to meet and interact with fans. So there’s an opportunity to meet with these people in a way that you can’t do otherwise.

  3. They also know there’s a “naughty factor” to it, so that’s enticing.

  4. Easy to emulate by modeling YouTube/Tik Tok and replicating behaviors (asking questions or performing special waves, i.e., Emma Chamberlain influencer birthday party).

Question: How is it that teens won't call anyone, ever, won't talk on the phone, but will chat with strangers on apps?? There must be some psychology going on here.


Pam: You can use a phone to talk, for sure, but for many of us, a mobile phone is an evolution of a wired phone and we think of them as that, phones. Things made for talking.


Another way of thinking about that question is to say, if I had no preconceived ideas about any device, what would I use to accomplish certain goals? What is a phone (in the traditional sense) best for?


Think about the different goals kids might have:

  • Connect with multiple friends at once

  • Share an image

  • Share a moment of frustration or surprise (WTF or OMG)

  • Arrange a place to meet, find out where someone is


Kids don’t use Clubhouse for the most part. But they will use Omegle, Twitch and other video and voice apps but their goals are completely different. They are entertainment and social connection.


Question: Let’s talk about the similarities between Clubhouse and Omegle. And how the pandemic has contributed to the popularity of platforms like these.


Rick: With Clubhouse, marketing friends of mine said that this was an opportunity for them to listen in on industry conversations with people they might not normally have access to. So the expert or “thought leader” is promoting themselves and other people in their industry can listen in and (theoretically) ask questions. That, in turn, lets them be seen.


Pam - Aside from no video camera, it is a way to stay connected with the illusion of doing something useful, in contrast to trolling Facebook or watching cat videos.


There is a big push to catch some of the ‘halo effect’ of celebrity and exclusively by passing oneself off as an expert, a certain amount of bragging (self-promoting) is involved passed off an introductions.


In both cases, not wanting to be left out. Might not use it but have to try it so you can say you did. However, will be increasingly difficult to find the wheat among the chaff.


FYI, activity earns you privileges (e.g. you can’t start a club unless you are active; you follow people who start clubs so they can invite you to theirs.


Wondering if you have any data on the boredom factor of Covid/social isolation as a contributing factor of kids using these apps.


Pam: There are two interesting findings:


  1. In-home tech/data use has increased - smart TVs and home computers saw growth upwards of 30% in 2020 vs. 2019. Despite some schools reopening for in-person learning and some adults returning to their offices, at least part time, home computer data usage continued to accelerate through the end of the year. The growth did slow a bit at the end of 2020, but roughly tracks with COVID closures. (Statistica)

  2. As of June 2020, 62% percent of U.S. parents of teens (14 to 17) reported that since the start of COVID-19, their kids spent more than four hours/day on devices. Only 32 % reported similar levels of daily prior to the pandemic. (Statistica)

Interestingly, people all reported that they expected to use technology more when stuck at home. So the increase should be a surprise to no one.


OUR ADVICE


To protect our kids’ (and our own) physical health, it is important that they have a sense of closeness and connection with people who matter to them (e.g. peer groups, sorry mom).


Some places, such as New Zealand, have implemented a strategy known as the “social bubble,” which is the easing of social distancing to allow close contact with another household and increase proximity to important others, even outside their households.

Technology right now is allowing kids to create that essential “social bubble.”


Question: What other platforms are kids using to “chat”?


Diana: Kids chat within all the social networks they use. It’s not just text-messaging any more. Kids chat through Snapchat, Google Classroom, Discord, etc.


Rick: Here a some we have covered that parents should possiblY worry about:


  • Signal -- Encrypted conversations; It rose in popularity during the George FloyD protests so that organizers could keep group communications private on Signal — unlike Facebook, Instagram or TikTok which can be monitored by law enforcement — many sought out Signal as a way to safely and securely organize protests.

  • Yubo -- The “Tinder for Teenagers”

  • KIK -- Unsure if you’re being messaged by a human or a bot, and if you believe the comments in the Google Apps stores it’s popular for sexting.

  • Spoon Radio -- Audio Youtube where anyone 13 and older can create a station and talk about whatever they want.

Pam: The hard part is that kids want to chat and they want to do it without parental oversight. This has been true throughout history.


Question: Do parental controls that block certain apps work?


Diana: Not really. Smart kids will always find a way to bypass blocks. Plus they will be curious about places they are not allowed to go. Best solutions include talking to kids about these apps (so parents need some awareness, or at least an open mind and curiosity).


Question: What can parents do to protect their kids on apps like Omegle?

  • Talk. Be honest, direct and respectful. Kids have info and opinions worth hearing

  • Educate themselves.

    • Note - this can be hard since there are SO many apps. We’d advise parents to make a priority list of what they’re worried about so they can assess which ones they need to understand best relative to their kid.

  • Definitely be aware of what their younger kids are doing online.

  • Remember, kids do this stuff because it is fun! Kids don’t expect things to go badly and don’t believe that it would go badly for THEM (cognitive bias)

  • Be aware there are strangers on these apps. Teach appropriate behaviors (close windows, leave rooms, report, move on -- not quit from their digital world)

  • Make sure kids know not to share personal information.

REMEMBER,


It’s normal for parents to worry. That’s their job. But concerned parents need to model the behavior they want to see: balance, boundaries, and following the rules (e.g. no phones at dinner.)



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1 Comment


Eric Cartman
Eric Cartman
Dec 23, 2021

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