Nicole Madison Lovell, a 13-year old girl of Blacksburg, Va., was kidnapped and murdered after exchanging messages with an 18-year old man via Kik. Two Virginia Tech freshmen were charged with her premeditated murder once authorities were able to identify the source of their communication. Just within the last two weeks, there have been four other cases in Colorado, Alabama, New York, and St. Louis involving men being charged for using Kik inappropriately to engage with minors. Recent cases like such are raising concerns for parents and law enforcement because the app developed so quickly and gained all kinds of popularity right underneath their noses.
Kik was founded in 2009 and flourished mostly among American teenagers for its appealing features, particularly in anonymity. Kik offers free and unlimited text messaging, e-commerce and content delivery, special emojis, and allows users to be identified only by a username of choice. According to a spokesman for Kik, the intention of this form of anonymity is to connect safely with strangers you meet online. I believe this does offer protection for users in the sense of being able to communicate with people all over the world and having full discretion at will to reveal personal information like one’s real name. However, this sense of protection may lead users, especially young users, to think that they are safe to use the app as freely as it allows without parental interference, test the barriers, and become vulnerable to online predators.
Law enforcement has seen probably the most activity on Kik and the anonymity the app provides makes it a challenge for police to identify those who are abusing the service. In compliance with legal practices, Kik does not have the ability to view messages exchanged, nor does Kik retain photos and videos after it is received which makes it very unresourceful in many cases. Thankfully, Kik has done a great deal in cooperating with law enforcement by any means possible in the recent investigations. Because these appealing features are legal and the app’s userbase is so widespread, the major responsibility of protecting young users is placed on the parents and Kik to educate and promote safe and appropriate use. With enough educated and informed users, predators will be disarrayed and this dangerous epidemic can become minute.