Father shocked when 8-year-old daughter gets provocative messages on innocent app

by Michael Foust |

(Reuters)

BATON ROUGE, La. (Christian Examiner) – Parents of children with smartphones or tablets may think twice about their kids' electronic habits after learning about what happened to one Louisiana family.

A father says his 8-year-old daughter was playing a seemingly innocent game on her iPod when she began to receive inappropriate messages from a 35-year-old man. The app is called "musical.ly," and it allows the user to lip sync to their favorite songs and record their own videos, all while receiving feedback from others.

"It was like, 'How are you, sweetie. Oh, you're so sweet. Thank you sweet girl,'" the father, Robert Smith, told WSFA. "Very inappropriate stuff. [The man wanted to know] if he could come hang out, if he could do this and that and 'I love watching your dances so much, and do you like me, and do you think I'm cute.'"

Technically, the app is rated 12+, although even its creators were disturbed by what happened. The father said he was shocked to learn the man had sent pictures to his daughter, and she had sent pictures as well, the TV station reported. No nudity was involved, but Smith was still bothered. He reported the incident to the police.

"I was very upset, very upset," Smith said. "I can't explain and can't say enough how upset I was when I saw the message."

The father hopes the incident will get the attention of other parents.

"It's just a whole world of stuff out there that you don't know what your kids are doing when they have these devices, and they have the Internet at their access at such a young age," Smith told WSFA. "You don't know what they're exposed to."

Being a helicopter parent, he said, is essential.

"You can't just turn a blind eye to this because there's some very bad people out there. It's just really sad that I have to show her what kind of cruel, harsh world this place can be," he said.

The company released a statement which read, in part, "Messages from friends are clearly identified from unknown senders so users can tell who is contacting them and can decide whether to engage. We are also implementing machine-learning technology to scan messages to block spam and inappropriate content." It further said the company "prioritizes the safety of our users."