Parents warned against the mobile app Sendit

In several parts of the country, the messaging app Sendit has become popular among younger children even though the age limit is 17 years. The app links up with Snapchat and can send messages anonymously, which has led to bullying.

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Municipality warns schools about Sendit

An app for sending messages anonymously works, in short, as follows: A person can choose a question or statement that the person wants to get answered. Usually one posts a link on social media, and friends and others click the link to enter a response. They then come to a page where they can write something anonymously. The recipient cannot know the identity of those who have written the message.

New apps of this type are appearing regularly. A while back, we saw that the apps Tellonym, Sarahah, and Yolo became very popular. Both the police and Barnevakten have previously advised against using such apps by children and young people.

Now Sendit has come with many of the same features. This app connects to the child’s Snapchat account.

After a bullying incident at an elementary school in Stord municipality, the municipality chose to take an active role to warn parents against children using this app. An information letter had been sent out to all the municipality’s ten primary and secondary schools, in addition to a number of schools in the two neighbouring municipalities.

Photo: John Henrik Staveland Sæter from Stord municipality.

“When you have the opportunity to remain anonymous, there is a lot that can happen in the communication between the sender and the recipient. I think a lot of people lose the filter when they write being anonymous, and you might write something you wouldn’t do otherwise. There can certainly be many problematic aspects of such apps,” says John Henrik Staveland Sæter, SLT coordinator at preventive services in Stord municipality.

According to Sæter, the reason why the municipality has actively gone out to warn parents about the app is the risk that it could become an arena for bullying and harassment.

Recommended age limit: 17 years

“The app has been rated 17+ in the app store. It signals that it is intended for adults, not for children. That is why we are warning against it and informing parents. There are certainly positive aspects of using such apps as well, but the negative consequences can be huge for children,” says Sæter.

Police warning: High risk of abuse

Rune Fimreite, head of the Police Cyber Patrol West, is highly critical of children and young people using apps to receive anonymous feedback. Among other things, the police’s online patrol is contacted directly by children and adolescents on social media. It has received several reports of bullying that happened via such apps.

“It is called to give honest feedback where the other party can remain anonymous. Then it is easy to understand that this will often end up in bullying. Using apps like this puts you at great risk. If parents discover that their children are using such services, one should really talk about whether there is a real need for the children to have access to this. The age limit is set at 17+ years for a reason, and there is little to suggest that a thirteen-year-old should have access to such an app,” says Fimreite.

But if the risk is so high, why do so many children and young people choose to download such apps?

“Some apps become popular for a little while and then calm down. Perhaps it has an exciting feature or a question in the group of friends whether you have the app or not. It may seem exciting to play truth or dare with apps where you are anonymous, but not everyone sees the shadowy sides before they experience or are made aware of it. The risk is often greater than the gain. Perhaps it is better to play truth or dare with someone you already know who he or she is,” says Fimreite.

The head of the police force points out that online anonymity is not only linked to such apps. There are countless people who create fake accounts on TikTok or Snapchat and then send ugly messages that way.

“The person feels safe behind the screen and just fires with hatred. In some of the worst cases, children and young people are asked to kill themselves,” says Fimreite.

Pay and you’ll get to know who the bully is

Sendit is free to use, but with the option that one can pay to get hints that reveal the sender’s identity. This can make children, the victims of harassing messages, be tempted to pay to see who has sent an ugly message.

“I find it reprehensible that primary school children who have been exposed to offensive comments and statements should pay to get clues as to who has written that. Of course, many want to know who the sender is in such cases, and then you have to pay a lot of money for it. Some people benefit from other people’s misfortune,” says Sæter.

He advises parents to talk to their children about the use of such apps.

“You can never be sure of the intention of the person you communicate with when using apps where one can remain anonymous. It is important that parents talk to their children about it and understand the apps their children use. Together, they can reflect on dilemmas with online anonymity and the risks involved in it. It happens that the children download the apps even if they are not allowed to be there and then experience difficult situations. We need to show that we are available to be able to talk about everything, both what is good and bad online. If not, it will be difficult for the children to tell us about abusive experiences,” Sæter urges.

Fimreite also points out that the relationship between bullies and victims is often connected to someone in the local community.

“If the child has been exposed to ugly messages, they may know who is behind it. It is important that the children talk to an adult they trust. If it is very serious or frightening, one should consider contacting the police. But in the first instance, you can solve it between parents, or by contacting the school. It is also a good idea to use the parent meeting as a discussion arena. It is not always easy to include entire parent groups on common stipulations, but perhaps such apps are something you can agree on as a nuisance” according to Fimreite.

And to children and adolescents who use the app and who have been exposed to something unfortunate, Sæter encourages them not to respond to ugly comments. It may lead to an escalation of the situation. In addition, one should encourage the children to talk to adults if they are exposed to something like this, whether it is parents, teachers, a public health nurse at school, or someone else they trust.

Read more:
A checklist when children use social media
Scary Instagram experience
More hate online than the schoolyard
More about children’s media use on Kids and Media.

(Translated from Norwegian by Ratan Samadder)