Each month we alert you to a site that you need to be aware of to protect your teen social media users.  This month we are warning you about: Channel45News.

This month we are focusing on prank social media “news sites”.  These sites allow anyone to create a fake news post, meant to look like it originates from a legitimate news organization, and share it on social media.  We have received complaints from some of our subscribers about one of these sites called Channel45News.  (We are not going to link to it so as not to increase their traffic.)

To be clear, the Channel45News homepage disclaims, with no apparent sense of irony, “We do NOT support FAKE NEWS!!! This is a Prank website that is intended for Fun. Bullying, Violent Threats or posts that Violate Public Order are NOT permitted on this Website.”  Yet, the same page goes on to provide four examples of prank posts that include homophobia, bullying, and obscenity.

One of the main dangers of these types of sites lies in the distribution of these “news” posts on social media.  The posts remain public indefinitely, and, of course, provide no disclaimer or other indication that they are actually pranks.  So, any posts that include hate speech or obscenity or cause reputational damage or emotional distress can spread online while the target, often a minor, is helpless to remove the offending material. So, it is truly galling, that this site, through a link to another presumably affiliated site, offers to remove the offensive material for a $99 processing fee.  We believe this may run afoul of several federal laws and will be looking to inform the Federal Trade Commission.

Channel45News is not a high-trafficked site, and it is highly likely you and your teens have not heard of it.  We bring it to your attention as an opportunity to raise the following points:

  • This is another reminder of the importance of strengthening your teen’s critical thinking skills when it comes to social media. Teens should understand that a “prank” that you post online is permanent and predicting its future effects is difficult, even for adults.  So, take a moment to discuss with your teen that if he or she is going to post something about someone else with the intent of being funny, she needs to take a long breath and think first because pranks posted online are often hurtful, harmful, or dangerous.  Better yet, recommend to your teen that she not use social media for pranks.
  • Second, we must remember that social media sites are designed to generate profits, and a good mental exercise to do before engaging with a social media site is to understand how that site makes money.  Most social media platforms generate revenue through advertising.  So, users must understand that their personal information will be used to target advertisements and that they will be consuming targeted advertisements through the platform.  For Channel45News, our opinion is that the site’s plan is to induce its users to generate posts disturbing enough to prompt others to pay to have them taken down.  Seems like a problematic business model and a warning sign to stay away.