As one of the most readily available Bible apps, YouVersion’s “Bible” is a common feature on the smart devices of Christians globally. However, an unfortunate safety risk has been discovered, as its features are being used inappropriately.
Warning: this article contains sexual language and themes that some readers might find distressing.
Parents are being warned about an emerging trend where the app is being used as what’s called “shadow social media” where people establish connections through the app’s “community” feature, in some instances linking younger users with strangers sharing illicit content, and in others allowing users to communicate discreetly away from traditional platforms.
Family digital safety expert Chris McKenna flagged the trend on his Protect Young Eyes Instagram account, explaining that the “add friends” function is how kids can end up in vulnerable positions.
How does it work?
When you open the Bible app, on the top of the front page* you have the option to click on the “Community” tab where you can then click “Add friends” and either add users known to you or search for new ones.
As some kids do, they might see what happens if they search a term like “sex” or “nude” or “penis”. At the time of writing, the “sex” search reveals accounts like “Sex Demon”, “Goddy3sure Sex” and more.
If your child decides to add that account, a friend request is sent to the recipient that, once accepted, means all of the recipients’ friends can see your child’s name listed as a connection that they can then make a friend request to as well.
The second area of concern can be rectified by updating to the latest version of the app, but is in the use of images through the scripture sharing feature.
When you go to the “Bible” or “Read” page of the app and highlight a verse, you have the option to create an image that overlays the verse onto a stock photo or use one from your camera roll.
In the instances Chris raises, minors were using nude photos from their camera roll and then sharing the “scripture image” with the new connections they’d made, essentially sharing explicit content with strangers that may or may include attached comments.
Since Chris first flagged the vulnerabilities on Instagram, YouVersion have removed the option to add images from the camera roll and advise they’re “actively working on ways to create a safer environment for young people”.
What can you do about it?
Until YouVersion are able to fully put child safety measures in place – also considering criminals continuously find ways around safety barriers – the following may help prevent your child from getting caught up in this exploitation:
- Always make sure your YouVersion app – and all apps – are using the most up-to-date version as they usually include security and vulnerablity updates
- If you notice the children in your world suddenly become ardent users of the Bible app, check in with what they’re using it for – and who’s on their friends’ list
- Talk to your child/ren about online safety. Our Raising Teens podcast has a lot of helpful information from adolescent psychologist and educator, with one episode covering Sexting, Sextortion and Cyber-Safety
On his Protect Young Eyes Instagram post, Chris offered this advice to parents: “Parents, please don’t rush to delete the app. Don’t freak -> instead, speak! Knowledge is power! I want this knowledge to lead to curiosity. I’ve already heard back from YouVersion, they share my concern, and we’re meeting next week ?? I look forward to helping them solve this. Parenting with you!”
*Users can get to “Add friends” through other pages on the app as well, but this is the most prominent avenue.