Controversy around a high school “sexting” incident in Canon City, Colorado has been proliferating the news as a police investigation has not only caused the cancellation of the high school’s football game (some of the players may be/are culpable in this on-going case) but also could result in potential felony charges. It has recently been revealed that students at Canon City High School have been exchanging hundreds of naked photographs of themselves, while successfully hiding evidence of such behavior from parents and the like (until now) through the use of “ghost apps.” This discovery has highlighted the challenges that are currently (or will be in the near future) facing schools, parents and prosecutors throughout the country as awareness of the prevalence of “ghost apps” being used to disguise student “sexting” spreads throughout all forms of social and traditional media.
#Sexting Problem in the United States:
Studies have found that roughly 30% of all American teens have shared a nude photograph of themselves with another teen. This sort of behavior has led many states to pass laws on “sexting” and to better clarify the potential consequences for teens (at least 20 states have updated their laws since 2009 to account for this youth “sexting”). While many states have passed laws with the view that teens should not be charged under child-pornography laws (which could require them to register as sex offenders), other states have laws with harsher penalties. According to an associate professor of law and psychology at Drexel University, David DeMatteo, this wide variation in state laws is a problem. “Sexting” not only has social consequences in “terms of humiliation and ostracism,” but it can also have legal consequences that differ throughout the nation. DeMatteo believes that “sexting” remedies should focus more on diversion and education rather than legal implications, such as teens registering as sex offenders.
Colorado law, in particular, deems “sexting” illegal, regardless of whether the student took and shared the explicit photographs voluntarily. However, District Attorney of Colorado, Tom LeDoux, declared he would only determine a judgment that required a culpable Canon City High School student to register as a sex offender if “absolutely necessary.”
#Sexting & Ghost Apps:
Students everywhere are using “ghost apps” to hide and share inappropriate photographs. So what are these “ghost apps?”
“Ghost apps” are smartphone applications that are disguised as normal apps but offer a number of different functionalities that can be hidden by a secret code. For example, some of these apps look like a normal calculator app, but once the secret passcode is entered, the app takes you to a hidden page where the user can store photographs, videos and all sorts of personal information.
These “ghost apps” have been around at least since 2012, when Snapchat’s popularity began to rise. Today, many of these apps are free and users are not shy about searching for and downloading them to keep “sexts” and other personal information secret. One example of a popular “ghost app” is Private Photo Vault, which has over 1,500 individual reviews and is the 28th most downloaded photo/video app on the App Store.
The current Colorado investigation has determined that at least 100 high school students used these “ghost apps” to exchange and store hundred of nude/inappropriate photographs with each other, including students as young as thirteen years old. As I mentioned above, the law in Colorado deems teenagers who send photos of themselves liable for possible felony charges. Sending photos of underage subjects, keeping such photos or sharing them with others is a “Class 3” felony in Colorado.
Recommendations for Parents:
A 2012 study found that more than 70 percent of teens have hidden online activity from their parents, which is becoming even easier to do today with “ghost apps.” Parents concerned about their children’s safety and their use of these apps can take certain preventative and proactive measures to better monitor their children’s activity. Below are specific recommendations for parents:
- Research and keep up-to-date with new apps, especially those that have access to the phone’s camera.
- Look for application redundancy – i.e. two calculators on a phone.
- Use parental controls in order to know and have a say in what apps are being downloaded onto the phone.
- Have a conversation with your teens and tweens about “sexting.” Be open and honest with them about the implications of “sexting” and also let them know that you will be monitoring them (don’t do it behind their back – you will lose their trust).
#IS6621 classmates – I am curious to see what you think about this Colorado scandal and the revelation of “ghost apps” being used to hide “sexting” from parents. Do you think if parents take the appropriate actions, the amount of “sexting” in the United States will decrease? Or conversely, do you think that this phenomenon will continue to grow as technology advances and new and different “ghost apps” are created?