TalkLife: The controversial app EVERY parent must know about

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talklifePrivate Investigator Julia Robson, owner of Online Investigations and cybersafety advocate warns Parents about the controversial app Talk Life which encourages school children to discuss sensitive personal issues such as suicidal thoughts, self harm, low self esteem and extreme bullying in the public domain.

The Australian owned app, reported to have 16,000 users worldwide (predominately teenagers), encourages users to speak publically and openly about their daily struggles.  However, unlike support services such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue (which provide an anonymous and private telephone line operated by trained mental health professionals), the app is moderated by a public “community” who, according to the app description, “identifies with their struggles”.  This “community” is defined simply by anyone who downloads the free app.

On downloading the app, the user is first encouraged to provide their full name and photograph, together with information regarding their sex and birthdate.  Their personal details, including a brief biography about themselves (typically utilised by users to describe the amount of suicide attempts they have had and their ongoing personal struggles) are then provided in full next to their confessions, which include extremely disturbing confessions of self-harm, rape and illicit drug taking.  Some of these confessions include goodbye messages as a result of allegations of attempted suicide.

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A cry for help

In one example, a 12 year old female (who provides her name in full), provides the most horrifying message: “Bye. Taking the pills now.”  Only three brief messages are left by the “community” in response to this cry for help – simply:  “Don’t”, “Please don’t” and “DON’T!”.  Viewers of this message are also offered the opportunity to send her virtual gifts such as “Take Courage” or “Warm Wishes” which can be purchased for $0.99c.  Incredibly, whilst a reporting feature is available, there is no option to report this message for immediate action by a Talk Life moderator, emergency services or referral to a professional suicide prevention organisation.

lolOn viewing a sample of messages asking for help (including a 15 year old girl who provides her full name and image with admissions to being depressed, a self harmer, anorexic, suicidal and worthless), the majority of profiles include details of their “KIK” username, an app which allows the sharing of images and recognised by Police forces worldwide as a breeding ground for online predators.  Speak to any member of law enforcement who deals with child exploitation and they will tell you that grooming a child online suddenly becomes easier with the knowledge your target is suffering extreme issues with self-confidence and fitting in.  A few compliments and reassurance from an anonymous ‘friend’ online, followed by few requests to see pictures, suddenly turns into a very real threat of acts such as sexting, child exploitation and sextortion.

So how does the Talk Life app verify who their “safe community” is? Well, they don’t.

Anyone with an iphone (from ages 12 onwards) can download this free app and there is no process to confirm your identity.  Although it is a requirement to provide an email address before posting or viewing comments left by others, the app does not require any verification of this email account, such as clicking on a confirmation link sent to the nominated address.  Without sufficient identity protocols, this app invites the potential for cyberbullies, school enemies and online predators the opportunity to be privy to incredibly sensitive conversations.  These “confessions” can also run the threat of becoming part of the individual’s digital footprint, which has the potential to be viewed by future employers and partners.

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A sample of messages left on TalkLife by school age children

With recent reports by Child psychologists stating increasing numbers of children are presenting with mental disorders, it is evident the youth of today need adequate support and a safe environment to discuss their concerns. Is a public forum which identifies the youth by name the answer?  Absolutely not.

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3 thoughts on “TalkLife: The controversial app EVERY parent must know about

  1. Jamie Druitt (Founder of Talk Life) Post authorReply

    RE: “TALKLIFE THE CONTROVERSIAL APP EVERY PARENT MUST KNOW ABOUT”

    Hi Julia,

    Thanks for your interest in Talklife via this blog http://onlineinvestigations.com.au/talklife-the-controversial-app-every-parent-must-know-about/?goback=.gde_2649812_member_248294210

    I just thought I’d make some general comments in response.

    Firstly, I understand that in your line of work that transparency may not be common, but this is something we pride ourselves on at Talklife so if you have any questions about our app, please just ask us.

    Regarding child protection, of course this is a top priority. We have recently partnered with an organisation called CACET Global (http://www.cacetaustralia.com.au/) and continue to work on strengthening this aspect of the app. If you have any practical solutions that you think may assist, feel free to let us know.

    Regarding moderation, we have a system where users “flag” posts that they deem inappropriate/unsafe, which alerts the moderators, who can instantly remove those posts. We also have volunteer moderators across various timezones monitoring the material. No system is perfect but we are doing our very best.

    We welcome input and contributions from mental health professionals. We recently presented at a national suicide prevention forum, have been in contact with professionals and have publicly called for professional partnerships, but nothing has eventuated yet.

    Talklife is run by five young guys out of Adelaide who voluntarily work on the app in their own time outside of their full time jobs. Personally, I have invested significant funds into this because there is an unquestionable need. We are proud of the app and the overwhelming positive feedback from the community shows that it really is making a difference.

    If organisations/individuals think they have something to contribute to make the Talklife community a better place, we would love to hear from them. But we are interested in action, and practical solutions, rather than commentary.

    Thank you and please don’t hesitate to contact me, i’ll certainly have a good look over your points and see if we can implement any changes.

    Jamie Druitt
    Founder Talklife

  2. Rg Reply

    Hi Julia,

    Thanks for taking the time to investigate and write this commentary about TalkLife smart phone application/community, I am one of the users and I have something to say.

    TalkLife idea was great for me as an alternative for other crowded/confusing social sites like facebook and twitter, not because I have a “Suicidal” intentions or not what, but because I like to help people and listen to others problems and issues so I can help and also I can learn for myself.

    At the beginning it was fun, and inspiring and I spent a lot of time reading other’s issues and commenting and helping with an advice or what not, however, like any other community/social sites, when you don’t have the right restrictions/guidelines it becomes open for all the non-sense and it gets out of control.

    Now, TalkLife becomes another facebook application with non-sense posts which people use it un-properly, if you read the posts now it are all like a facebook status and not an actual problems, and if you tried to say something about it the people say “fuck-off, we can write whatever we want” sort of things, which is not what this site is claiming about, if the founder is taking the site idea to just build another social site and let the people do rest, he better just say that, don’t claim otherwise.

    Also if you tried to go and read the comments, there are no help there, it is just a random place for random people saying random stuff which might lead for an actual suicide cases or child exploitation or whatnot. And it is all about Kik app, I mean if you start reading an actual problem and try to read the comments and learn something useful, you find all people commenting with “please kik me at xxx” and that’s it. useless in all meanings.

    More of this and TalkLife will become another Suicidal and online predators perfect place to start, it will become an insane place with darkness inside. It will become a shit-hole.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect to the founder of the app and the idea by itself, but I think you are absolutely right of your concerns and I support you very much, we need to get this under control because it touches teenagers very sensitive personal issues and that needs care.

    beyond that, the app looks lousy and no support responses and it seems like no one is there for any support whatsoever, so please take care, the risk is high already and your concern is true.

    Also the majority of the members are school kids below 18!!, how they can help anyone in a suicidal case whatsoever?!.

    Please take a serious action before things go out of control.

    Thank you very much in advance
    Best Regards

    • Anon Reply

      I’ve actually been one of the original group of users for the last 3 and a half years, you are right in all aspects there is a lot especially in the last 12 months that has changed about the app and none of it has been for the better.

      When I started using it all those years ago it was about helping and getting help no one bullied or trolled one and other but if they didn’t like what you’d said you talked it out instead of arguing, suggestions from fellow users that were around when I started there had been made but all of which fell on deaf ears sadly I’ve had to make the call to stop using the app and boycott it I’ve even had parents of children who use it who were unaware of what was going on with their children and were shocked to find some of the topics that were being discussed and the fact that their child now has heavy mental health issues as a result of dealing with users on the app or they at some point got cyberbullied on there or when they gave their kik messaging out things got way out of hand.

      More professionals needed within the app

      There is a lot of things I’ve left out of what I think but honestly over the years it’s just become harder to help anyone on the app and there is no offer of professional support because the majority of users are teens and think they know what they’re doing I’m not saying I’m a professional, but I carry many many years of life experience and if you want to shoot your mouth off to the suggestions I’ve made to try to help you I’ll bite down and tell you what I think of you it’s that simple the newer generation of users have absolutely no respect for anyone and don’t like it when they’re told how it is.

      Mod Applications

      The moderators that the creator does applications for are mostly very inexperienced(in age or maturity) and aren’t able to keep up with the demand on the complaints that are being made to be dealt with which is really sad that they’ve been put in a position like that and a lot of them(that I know personally have had to have therapy due to the strain they’re under as a mod of the app)

      Predators

      I’ve had to deal with more over the last year than when I started using the app, sadly nothing is ever done to fix this issue because for the most part it’s done outside of the app and supposedly there isn’t anything the creator can do to fix this issue(that includes banning accounts that are marked for that reason)

      There are some massive changes that need to be made before any one who was part of that original group will return(they’ve made that known) something needs to be done this app and the web version have got way out of hand

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