For many Americans, the first we’d heard of the 4Chan site was following the deadly mass school shootings in Oregon on October 1st of this year. The attacker had posted several warnings on the site prior to his actions.
With the growth of mobile apps, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the ocean of websites that are still used by millions of us around the globe. 4Chan is one such site that gets overlooked by parents.
So what is 4Chan?
In short, 4chan.org is an image board — or Internet forum where users post mostly graphic images with some text. Almost all posts are anonymous – and placed into one of several categories provided by the site.
Originally 4Chan was used for posting pictures of Japanese cartoon-like images called anime. However, the site expanded to reflect many other interests,
In the years since its introduction in October of 2003, 4Chan has been linked to subcultures and activists such as the group Anonymous. Moreover, because of its graphic images it’s been known for popularizing such things as Internet memes and characters – including the Pedobear – a pedophile cartoon bear.
The most popular – and perhaps disturbing board category is the “Random” board – which is also identified as “/b/”. Since there are minimal rules for posting on 4Chan – and its graphic nature – content often shocks, offends and inflames its users.
Much of the content is pornographic, racists and misogynistic in nature. However, there are also categories for more reasonable discussions on finance, sports, politics, religion and the arts.
The site has also spawned a web browser app to make the site easier to browse – as well as the release of a college drinking game.
This Is Not Your Father’s Internet
The site 4Chan is not the end of a parent’s concerns. For example: We all know about YouTube. However, most don’t know that YouTube content providers or talent –are more popular to teens than Hollywood’s traditional movie and TV stars. Yet most adults have no idea who Smosh, The Fine Brothers, PewDiePie, KSI or Ryan Higa are. They are in fact more popular to teens than Jennifer Lawrence, Paul Walker, or even Katy Perry.
Although I will stop short of suggesting that any of these characters on YouTube are akin to watching Cinemax after dark – some fly well below a parent’s radar. More importantly, these digital celebrities illustrate that parents often lose touch with what their children watch
It’s not just an issue of content – but also of cyber attacks. Today there are more than one billion websites on the internet. It’s reported that over 100,000 websites are created daily. As one might imagine, the risk from vulnerable sites is growing. Yet in a mobile world we tend to think malware is only an issue for laptops and desktops. Not true.
Menlo Security’s State of the Web 2015 report suggests that more than one in three of the top domains are risky. In other words: sites are already compromised or running susceptible software.
For example: If you look at the Alexa top one million sites — more than one in 20 sites, i.e., 6% were identified as serving malware, spam or botnets. And 21% of sites were running software with known vulnerabilities.
But none of these were trusted sites, right? Wrong! Even credible sites such as Forbes.com were vulnerable to delivering zero-day malware to unwary visitors. As Menlo Security suggests, current security tools are falling behind in guarding against such attacks. Moreover, many of our children are accessing these websites on their smartphones and tablets.
What’s A Parent To Do?
As I have said for years, none of us would throw the keys to our car to a thirteen year old child and say, “Have a great evening.” A child of thirteen is not ready mentally or emotionally to drive. The same might be true with surfing the web – or using apps without a parent’s guidance and the proper training.
So what can you do? Take these simple steps.
- Keep a Your Machine Clean, Lean and Mean
Parent must educate themselves as to what sites and apps children are using today. With over 100,000 sites being created daily – and with 1.5 million apps in mobile stores, that can be a difficult challenge. However, much like with your laptops or desktop, there are many tools available through your network provider that can help you monitor your child’s activity.
Be certain that your child’s mobile device has the latest security software, web browsers, operating system and the most recent version of apps installed, as these provide the best defense against malware and other online threats.
Take the time to give all the mobile devices in your house the latest protections. This may require synching your device with a computer.
- Not So Quick With The Free Wi-Fi
When using wi-fi and a local café, be certain your kids understand the risks of using public Wi-Fi. Teach them that any URL they access while on such wi-fi should start with “https://” at the beginning of web address. The “s” indicates that the site is secure.
- Research Apps & Websites Before Downloading or Accessing
The most important steps you can take in managing your child’s online actions is to simply speak with them. Discuss with them the importance of online privacy. Many apps leak personal information including your child’s name, location, email address, phone number, location and other such personal data. If your child is playing games, make sure they understand NOT to provide any identifiable information.
- Visit Parental Resources
You can keep up with the evolution of technology, websites and apps by regularly visiting parental resources such as our blog at www.awiredfamily.org; www.commonsensemedia.org and www.connectsafely.org. However, there are also great news apps available such as Flipboard and Apples News. Both of these apps allow you to set preferences that will push news related to such critical subjects as online security; teen trends; teen apps; child psychology; parenting technology; cyberbullying and suicide, etc.
Keeping up with technology and the use of apps and sites by teens can be difficult. However, as we have seen all too often – the results of not understanding this evolution of technology, teen life and psychology can be devasting.
While 4Chan is the site that made the most recent headlines – tomorrow will bring yet new apps and sites that will attract the curious minds of our children. The best defense is to arm yourself with knowledge.