Kik is a free messaging app popular among young people. A third of American teens use Kik to chat with friends and connect with brands, games, and media. However, the anonymity and ease of connecting with strangers also ranks it among the most dangerous online spaces for kids: one study found that 23% of “Kiksters” ages 9 – 17 had a sexually explicit interaction on the platform, with 14% of users experiencing such an interaction with someone they believed to be an adult. Sexually explicit content is not only rampant, but easily accessible in the multitude of public group chats. Kik’s emphasis on privacy and anonymity has also made it difficult for the law to be involved when reports are made, and currently relies on users to make reports and moderate the platform for bad actors. Law enforcement has been sounding the alarm for years about Kik being a stomping ground for predators, yet Kik hasn’t made any substantive improvements to keep kids safe.
Keep kids off Kik!
What is Kik?
Kik is a free mobile messaging app that can be used on both Android and iPhone devices, allowing over 300 million users to connect with people all over the world via access to data messaging or an Internet connection. Kik also provides other ways to connect through in-app integration with brands, other popular apps like YouTube, and social media platforms. The draw to Kik is the emphasis on privacy and anonymity – users only need an email, which remains hidden from public view, and a chosen username to sign up for an account.
What makes Kik unique? Kik has built its brand on appealing to the teenage demographic – 70% of all Kik users are between the ages of 13-24 years old. Research has shown that an estimated 40% of all American teenagers have used Kik. The website is filled with language and imagery dedicated to connecting with young people. Here are some examples of language taken right from Kik’s website:
“Today, many teens and young adults are slowly moving away from social media and are looking towards chat as their primary source for communication and information. And where better to turn to for a fun, safe place to connect? Kik, of course!”
“As the only chat platform built especially for teens and as a clear leader in chatbots, Kik will become the central hub for everyday life for teens across the world as we grow.”
Clearly, Kik is more than aware of the incredibly high concentration of minors using the app. The problem is so do adult predators, who flock to Kik knowing the app’s features will protect their identities and give them unmitigated access to the millions of vulnerable children using Kik every day. And despite Kik’s policies on paper that ban pornography and other inappropriate content, public and private chat groups are rife with sexually explicit material that are accessible in only a few clicks.
Kik has come under fire many times throughout the years for being the opposite of a “positive chat community” that has no tolerance for users that “use Kik in any way that could harm or does harm minors”. In fact, law enforcement has been raising the issue for years, and one explosive 2017 Forbes article detailed the rampant problem of child exploitation happening on Kik. A 2020 lawsuit against Kik and its parent company, MediaLab AI, detailed the way in which the Kik allowed predators access to the plaintiff, only a minor when she was exploited on the platform.
Despite these numerous media and law enforcement callouts, Kik has made barely any progress in shutting down predators and other behavior that goes directly against their guidelines. The app’s reliance on user reports and moderation means the onus to stop predators and other bad actors is almost entirely on the shoulders of Kik’s very young userbase. And the app is still growing in popularity – Kik currently gets about 1 million new downloads a month.
As one convicted child predator told the media, Kik is a “predator’s paradise”. The lack of identification and age verification (users only have to put in a birthdate upon sign-up) means adult users who are looking for young victims can very easily access their preferred pool of victims, while pretending to be anyone they want. Kik’s own features enable and encourage this – offering public groups anyone can join by searching for common interests and even the “Meet New People” feature, which pairs users with complete strangers to start conversations with.
The 2017 Forbes investigation into Kik found ample evidence of this:
“A joint Forbes and Point Report investigation has uncovered evidence of a vast number of child exploitation cases involving the use of Kik, where some of the most appalling material is being shared and young girls and boys are being targeted for grooming. Posing as 14-year-old girls, we also discovered just how quickly predators were on the prowl and how third-party apps for sharing profiles appeared to be facilitating access to minors. And we found that Kik hasn’t even been deleting the profiles of individuals charged and convicted of child abuse offenses.”
These problems have not improved since the article first raised public awareness to the problems on Kik. Thorn, a leading resource on child exploitation online, published a study earlier this year that revealed minors on Kik were experiencing some of the highest rates of online sexual interactions with other users – 23% of surveyed children who use Kik have had a sexual encounter. Even more concerning is the disproportionately high rate of those instances involving an adult interacting with a minor, 14% for users on Kik.
Bark, on online filtering tool for parents that also provides critical insight into the state of child online safety today, also released a report in 2021 that details just how bad predatory and other bad behavior is on Kik. Some fast facts from their report that highlight the problem in particular:
Clearly, Kik has a massive problem with facilitating an open space for predators to roam, and fostering an environment that makes it incredibly easy for adults to contact children, with little to no protections in place to prevent it.
Kik’s policies do not allow pornography or inappropriate content to be posted anywhere on the platform. Kik even goes as far to say in their Community Guidelines: “By “inappropriate content” we mean any photo, video, or written depiction of pornography, nudity, real or implied sexual acts, graphic or gratuitous violence, and anything else that doesn’t belong in a positive chat community with an audience age 13 and up.” However, these policies are not being enforced in any meaningful way and kids are still in danger when using Kik.
Kik’s emphasis on privacy and anonymity means they do not actively monitor the multitude of private and public chats happening throughout the platform, allowing the very content they ban to flourish under Kik’s mismanagement.
NCOSE researchers downloaded and set up a Kik account as a 13 year old. Using only the suggested search terms to look up common interests such as #Pokemon or even the innocuous #Fun tag resulted in chatrooms dedicated to pornography, trading sexually explicit images/nudes, and other content that clearly isn’t allowed on Kik.
The sheer number of predators who have been arrested over the years for instances of grooming, enticement, and even child sexual abuse material being distributed through Kik shows just how much Kik is letting slip through the cracks. (See more evidence in the proof section).
There are no filters available on Kik to control the type of content being suggested by these innocent-seeming tags. The only real safety settings Kik provides is the ability to block or report a user, placing almost all the responsibility to catch bad behavior and abuse on the users who are likely experiencing abuse and harassment.
Kik is not doing enough to enforce their policies to make the platform safe for the very population that makes it so popular. Instead, they have allowed predators to run rampant for years, putting millions of minors in danger every day.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation demands Kik make the following changes:
It is abundantly clear that Kik is among the top technological platforms that are enabling and enhancing predators’ access to minors. This fact is greatly concerning as sexual harassment and assault continues to become more rampant in society. Even more disconcerting is the potential role Kik is playing in the facilitation of child abuse and sex trafficking. With its lack of robust safety settings, moderation strategies, and better guides for parents and users about the real dangers on its platform, it is evident that Kik is still not willing to prioritize child safety.
Companies like Kik can no longer claim ignorance or avoid accountability—corporations have a responsibility to ensure their technology is not used for sexual abuse or exploitation.