A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Meerkat - Tweet Live Video is a streaming-video app that allows people to live-broadcast anytime from anywhere via their Twitter feeds or Facebook page. Similar to the competing service Periscope, the technology is impressive, though there are plenty of red flags for parents. Because the app streams events live, there's no way for anyone to know what's going to happen next. That opens the door for sexual or violent content, endless strong language, and drinking and drug use. During our initial review of the app, we saw women in their underwear, a person smoking from a bong, and one person doing shots and drinking beer. There's a "report" feature, so the company can be alerted after the fact, but it doesn't explicitly state rules saying what is or isn't allowed. It's also easy to capture video of people in public places without their permission.
What's it about?
MEERKAT users are able to stream everyday events, such as brushing their teeth or watching a presidential speech. Those streams get pushed to the user's Twitter feed and/or Facebook page for the world at large to see, depending on a user's settings. Upon opening the app, you can opt to enter your phone number, let the app access your address book, and link to your Facebook page, but none of those are essential for use. There are no screening tools, so users who watch the streams are never entirely sure what they're going to see beyond the title of the stream. You can follow other users, just as they can follow you, receiving notifications when they've launched a stream. Users also can comment on any stream via the app; streams are shown live as they happen. Streams can be scheduled in advance, alerting Twitter followers or Facebook friends that they're forthcoming.
Is it any good?
Meerkat exploded upon its premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest conference as a social media tool that allows anyone to become a live broadcaster and quickly get that video out to the world via Twitter. Twitter also has its own streaming tool, Periscope, and has consequently made it harder to follow your Twitter friends on Meerkat. The video operates on a roughly 30-second delay, but streams aren't monitored, meaning users can freely broadcast sex, violence, or other iffy content -- and keep it live until someone reports it and the company takes action. The app's rules don't specifically forbid users from streaming this sort of content, other than saying, "Be kind."
Because the potential for exposure to inappropriate content is so great, Meerkat isn't an app that's appropriate for young children or tweens, and parents of teens might want to consider access on a case-by-case basis. It's an app that can open up the world, but it's also one that can showcase things you might not be ready for your kids to see.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about privacy and the risks of broadcasting yourself to the world. What's fun about streaming video and getting live comments? What are the drawbacks? What would draw you to watching someone else's stream?
Discuss what's appropriate to share and what isn't. Remind kids that people beyond their existing Twitter followers might see their video.
Ask kids to think about the privacy implications of streaming video of people who didn't give permission. Would they like to be in a video when they're in a public bathroom or having a personal conversation in a restaurant?
For kids who love social networking and sharing content
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.