What started as an artistic outlet to share decorative photos has turned into something quite ominous.
The website and mobile app VSCO has been popular since its launch in 2011. The site introduces itself as “an art and technology company empowering people everywhere to create, discover, and connect” and “a community for expression.” (Source: https://vsco.co)
Many users apply the photography resource exactly as encapsulated by the enterprise: to embellish their photos with colorful filters and effects; to share their creations with a broader audience. However, the under-21 generations have begun to use the app for more adult purposes.
I am a high school student. I, as well as many of my peers, use popular social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, etc. It is common, almost expected nowadays, for teenagers to share links to their accounts on various platforms, via their own public profiles. VSCO is among one of the most commonly shared platforms on Instagram and Twitter.
I can never expect what I may discover on a friend or classmate’s VSCO profile. Many young people use the app to post vibrant images of themselves and their friends; picturesque scenes of skies and beaches; their lives captured through a colorful lens. The goal is innocuous: to add an artistic flair to the idiosyncrasies of everyday life. This is most likely the intended purpose of VSCO: to create and share, encouraging amateur and professional photographers alike to be innovative and expressive.
VSCO appeals to its users because there is no “like” button, eliminating the risk and chagrin of accidentally notifying a user that you’ve seen their photo at the slip of a finger. Additionally, a user’s number of followers is unknown to everyone but that user. A superficial sense of privacy is perpetuated.
Many users take advantage of this “privacy.” But nothing posted on VSCO is completely private. You don’t even need an account to view someone’s content, just the link to that user’s profile.
VSCO has become a hub for younger people to post the photos that are too “bold” to share to ostensibly broader audiences on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. I have explored links to classmates’ profiles and viewed photos of liquor bottles, teenagers smoking, and young girls in lingerie. These digital images can be anywhere from mildly suggestive to downright incriminating when they overtly exhibit illegal drug use, underage drinking, or child pornography. Anyone with a computer or cell phone can access these photos: parents, school officials, and college admissions officers included.
I am not a preacher, nor am I a parent. I am a high school student. I have seen photos that should never have been shared on the internet. I want to warn my generation and the generations to come of the imminent dangers prompted by “bold” postings. When photos that are intended to be “risky” are posted online, the content is readily available to a global audience. Teenagers are not the sole users of these apps. Anyone can explore the links posted on Instagram and Twitter profiles; anyone can also screenshot photos without notifying the poster.
Here’s the scariest feature of VSCO. Each photo shared on the platform, when clicked on, maps the precise location where it was taken. This feature opens children and young adults to a myriad of threats at the hands of predators of any age.
In our digital world, you never know who is watching. Furthermore, you never know who could be sharing your own photos.