What should parents know about Periscope?

With live TV, part of the fun is never knowing what's going to happen next. Periscope brings that thrill to smartphones with its live-streaming app that lets anyone broadcast anything they want to the internet as it's happening. But unlike TV, Periscope lets you interact with other broadcasters either by text or live video, as well as broadcast yourself. Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, may be most like life itself -- with a little of everything from the totally mundane, such as people walking their dogs, to the completely outrageous, including possible illegal activity.

Here's how it works: Once you download the app and register, you can watch a live stream of anyone from anywhere in the world. If you like their stream, you can follow them and receive notifications when they're live. When you click on someone's stream, your username is revealed to them (and it can be disconcerting when a complete stranger says hello to you). You're not visible unless you enable your camera. You can comment on any stream or turn off comments entirely. It's equally easy to start your own broadcast and get people to follow you.

Periscope is an impressive use of technology, but since teens are known to sometimes act before they think, it can also be an opportunity for oversharing or inappropriate behavior. Here are the pros and cons of Periscope.

Pros:

  • It can be eye-opening. You can get an up-close-and-personal glimpse of things you would never be able to see with your own eyes -- for example, a firsthand view of a revolution in a repressed country.
  • It can be entertaining. You can tune into concerts, tours, and other events.
  • It can keep you in touch with faraway loved ones. Whether you have a family member who's deployed or on a long business trip, Periscope offers an intimate connection.

Cons:

  • It's not monitored. Periscope relies on its users to police the content. Users can (and do) freely broadcast sex, violence, and other iffy content.
  • Kids' judgment about what makes great video can be iffy at best. Teens in Milwaukee allegedly live-streamed sex acts (using Facebook Live), and a woman used Periscope to broadcast her suicide.
  • Streams can be recorded. Whatever you're broadcasting can be recorded by anyone who's tuned in. That means a stranger could save video of your kid for their own use.
  • Cyberbullying and harassment can be a problem. Kids who live-stream open themselves up to commentary (and the internet's record of positive comments is not stellar!).
  • Broadcasts are public by default. You can either set up a public broadcast, which allows anyone to follow you, or a private broadcast, where you invite specific people to watch and interact with you. 
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