Safety is a constantly hot topic when it comes to online communications, and nothing pours fuel on the fire of concern like young people entering the discussion. Many think that online and mobile messaging services should be exclusively for adults, but I propose that many of these apps, including Kik, is for adults as well as a multitude of age groups and demographics.
It’s hard to get away from the topic of online safety since incidents in world news keep bringing it to the forefront of the public’s concern. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either; it’s important to keep our young people safe, and never has it been more difficult to do so than online, where a veil of anonymity means that people can interact with almost anyone they want to…without ever truly knowing the person on the opposite end of the conversation. This ambiguity can make messaging services seem almost frightening, resulting in the knee-jerk reaction that perhaps applications like Kik are only meant for adults.
Not only do I disagree, but the vast majority of Kik’s millions of users might beg to differ as well. Since many of those millions are young people, it would seem a bit shortsighted to claim that the app is only intended for adults. As stated before, I firmly believe that Kik was designed for several age groups, in such a way that it escapes such easy classification as being “for youth” or “for adults.”
We’ll need to examine some of Kik’s features to come to a decisive answer. We’ll also need to explore some of the ways that Kik is a safe messaging platform for all ages, youth included. It’s a tough topic to tackle (hence why it’s constantly a “hot-button” issue in popular media), but with a brief exploration of online literacy, some expounding on Kik’s core features–as well as changes it’s implemented only recently–and a look at the diverse user base presented by the app, we can come to agree that Kik Messenger is not only for adults or only for young people.
Is Kik Safe to Use?
We’ve covered Kik’s privacy and safety features before, but if we’re going to talk about demographics, safety, and Kik all together in the same article, we’ll need to revisit some of that discussion. The easy answer to the above question is, “Yes, Kik is definitely safe to use.” The more complicated answer is, “Your Kik experience is as safe as you make it.”
It should be said up-front that issues of online safety do not pertain only to young people. Adults fall into the same traps, the same struggles, the same frustrations as much younger users, and so many of the same advice that I would give to a teenager, I would also give to an adult. The overarching theme of that advice would be, “Beware of anonymity.”
Kik is a safe platform due to the fact that users have complete control over who messages them. Each person also has control over their own personal information, since Kik never reveals anything that you submit to it apart from your unique username and your display name–that’s it. Your email address and phone number (which is optional) remain private and are only used by the service’s address-matching feature when required for assembling your pre-existing mobile contacts in Kik Messenger. This means that any personal information that’s revealed to other people you’re chatting with on Kik lies squarely on your shoulders, adult, teen, or otherwise.
Staying Safe on Kik
The internet is insecure by default. Netiquette and security certificates add a level of safety.― David Chiles
It’s easy to say, “Your safety is in your hands.” It’s a little more complex, but necessary, to explain how exactly that works.
When you first sign up for a Kik Messenger profile, you submit only a few required bits of information: a unique username, an email address, a password, a display name, and optionally, your phone number. Since the phone number is optional, your Kik profile is tied to your username and email address. These two pieces of information are, by and large, your identity while on Kik. Anyone who has your username can message you. While this doesn’t mean that your actual identity is at stake, that doesn’t mean that you’re entirely safe when your username is out there, floating around. It pays to keep it safe.
For instance, put yourself in the shoes of someone whose username was just shared in a public place online. Suddenly, you could face a barrage of messages and chat requests from absolutely anyone that managed to get ahold of that username. While Kik certainly has a “block” feature built into its toolkit, that doesn’t necessarily spare you from the host of annoyances that could spring from such a thing happening.
Now, place yourself in the same situation, but imagine if you were a young person. The safety risk escalates a bit, doesn’t it? While this is partially a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of something threatening our youth, it’s also partially justified. Malicious intention online is often directed towards young people, since the stereotype is that they make easier targets. The reality, however, is that adults and youth are both remarkably lacking in online literacy and safety knowledge. For this reason, every caution mentioned above applies to both groups, as well as anyone else using Kik Messenger.
What About Group Chats?
Previously, group chats were searchable by Kik users. This made them difficult to keep private, and occasionally difficult to keep secure and safe. Recent changes have locked group chats down a bit more than before, however; groups can no longer be searched by Kik users, and instead require a personal invitation by someone in the group. You can also use a Kik code to invite someone, which we’ll discuss just below!
A final note about group chats, before we move on: though they’re no longer searchable within Kik itself, that doesn’t prevent many of them from going public. Adult users and youth will both find plentiful groups available by searching online, each dedicated to a variety of different purposes and topics. If you’re feeling lonely or lost on Kik, a group chat is a great way to get more activity for yourself!
Who Uses Kik Codes?
Also a relatively new feature, Kik codes allow people to add each other as contacts, and also to invite others to participate in group chats. It’s an innovative way to allow people to connect without the cumbersome need to share and plug in usernames. This is beneficial since one of my foremost safety recommendations is to keep your Kik username complicated enough that it cannot be guessed–usually a series of numbers as well as uppercase and lowercase letters. Simply go into the “Settings” menu and tap “Your Kik Code.” You’ll be shown a graphic that other users only need to scan with their devices’ mobile cameras in order to access. Handy, right?
Kik codes are also where we see a divergence between demographic, but not necessarily as a rule. Since Kik codes encourage people to add each other face-to-face (or at least within a more private space than a searchable list), users often end up sharing their codes with already-existing friends and contacts. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing; it’s a feature that allows people to connect with those they already know, and also to network within their currently existing social groups. You can share your Kik code on many different social media platforms, after all.
Kik: Not Just for Adults
Being all but dominated by younger users, it would be difficult to argue that Kik is only for adults. Still, a fair number of adults (I’ve got my hand up for this crowd, don’t worry) use it as well. One of the great things about online communications is the opportunities it presents to bridge demographics while still allowing people to talk to their friends without worrying about time or distance. The visual flare offered through Kik’s browser and its Smiley Shop will appeal to young people, while the diverse features and escape from a bloated settings list (I’m looking at you, Skype) may be just the sort of simple messaging option that adults want, as well.
It could almost go without saying that some people are too young for Kik. To say that it’s suitable for a variety of demographics doesn’t mean that all are included, and I would most certainly advise that nobody younger than the age of 13 sign up for a Kik profile. While it’s easy to keep oneself safe, the stark lack of online literacy and caution in most people (not all!) that young makes it an ideal “cutoff point” at which young people should wait until they’re a little older before signing up.
If you’re considering statistics more than features, consider that Kik boasts over 200 million registered profiles, and features millions of logged in users on a day-to-day basis. Though a majority of them are younger users, majority means less and less when your daily user base consists of millions of people. There’s a good chance that you have friends on Kik, and a great way to find out is to get on Kik yourself! Though it’s certainly youth-oriented, this app is not just for them, and nor is it just for adults.