Twitter's Vine App Raises Questions About Social Media Age Restrictions

Feb 8, 2013
Originally published on February 8, 2013 10:01 am

Vine, Twitter's new microvideo-sharing app for the iPhone, this week added a 17+ rating, saying that the app "contains age-restricted material." The change came after some users uploaded pornographic clips onto the app, which features 6-second (or 6 1/2 seconds if you're really counting), slice-of-life video clips.

Apple's App Store guidelines "prohibit apps that make it easy to find user-generated pornographic content," Business Insider notes.

So, a 17+ rating means Vine is only available to those of age, right? Not really.

Apple says it requires a new user to enter his birth date, to "help us verify your identity if you forget your password or need to reset it." But there's nothing to confirm the user's age, making it easy for youngsters to download apps rated for adults.

However, concerned parents can set age restrictions, by app, on iPhones and iPads that their children are using through a device's general settings.

This has Internet safety groups concerned, especially given Vine's warnings on its download page about the types of content the app may contain:

  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Infrequent/Mild Horror/Fear Themes
  • Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence
  • Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
  • Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
  • Infrequent/Mild Simulated Gambling

The #porn hashtag and similar searches have been disabled, so users can't outright search "porn." However, they can still find it, using other suggestive keywords.

Vine is following Apple's protocol by notifying new users that they must be least 17 years old to use the app.

But Donna Rice Hughes, president and CEO of Enough is Enough, an Internet safety organization, isn't impressed. She said the technology for age identification — including requiring credit card information — is available and is used by online companies every day, but not always on social networking sites.

"They don't want to implement age verification," Hughes said. "They should be a little more conservative and thinking of safety from the get-go."

Online video giant YouTube, which has been in business since 2005 and is now part of Google, houses billions of clips. And, like Vine, not all of YouTube's content is appropriate for younger audiences. In fact, the terms of service explain that YouTube is intended for users 13 and above:

"... you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you."

But YouTube's community guidelines are much stricter than Vine's. YouTube users are warned not to upload pornography or videos showing abuse, gratuitous violence or graphic images. The viewing community can flag videos or users it finds inappropriate, and those reports are then reviewed by the company. From there, YouTube can deem the video age-restricted or will remove it from its website.

The Vine app initially allowed users to report offensive videos, but its latest update also lets users block other users' profiles from their feed. So the Vine community can flag clips to clean up the feed, but in the end, people will be able to search and find what they want to see. Whether it's G-rated or not is up to you.

Lizzy Duffy is an intern on NPR's Social Media Desk.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.