The free iPhone and Android app Skout, which bills itself as “the global network for meeting new people” has shut down its teen community after three men have been accused of raping minors they met using the app.
One of the accused, Christopher Bradley Nutt, 24, has pleaded not guilty to suspicion of sex with a minor, possession of child pornography, and other charges after police say they found him in a bedroom with 12-year-old Escondido girl he met using Skout. The girl had been reported missing by her mother on May 26 and was reportedly found with Nutt two days later. In another case, a 15-year-old girl in Ohio said she was raped by a 37-year-old man. The third victim is a 13-year-old Wisconsin boy.
In all three cases, the alleged rapists posed as teens on the under 18 forums on Skout. The teen forum was created in an effort to protect teens from predators — after Skout noticed that minors were using the service, they instituted a separate area for 13-17 year olds. The “Safety Tips for Meeting Offline” section of the Skout website contains the following warning, “Skout has two distinct, mutually exclusive communities: one for teenagers and one for adults. The teen community is separated into age-appropriate groups based on school grades. Community members in these groups can only communicate with peers close to their own age.”
Skout allows users to share their location and meet strangers nearby. According to the New York Times, it was over 5 million users.
Following the rape accusations, Skout founder and CEO Christian Wiklund announced the shutdown of the teen community on the Skout blog. ”We know how much Skout means to our teen community, and, at Skout, our community means everything to us. For now, we believe that there’s only one thing we can do: until we can design better protections, we are temporarily shutting down the under-18 community,” wrote Wiklund, adding, “Again, I’m very, very sorry, but I hope you understand why we decided to take this step. Skout means a lot to you — it means a lot to me, too. We want to do what is right, and that starts by doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our community.” The announcement was met with mixed reviews at best. The majority of the comments on the announcement were posted by teens no longer able to use the service. “wth this is messed up!! I met my boyfriend on there.. Just get rid of the ones who are being stupid/inappropriate” writes one commenter. Another pleads, “No, please guys. Just put it on for one day. I only have Skout for meeting my girlfriend. Just let me give her other adresses [sic]. PLEASE.” Another user points out a glaring flaw in the shutdown plan, “…banning everyone under 18 is just gonna [sic] make all those younger kids lie and say they are 18[...] This plan will backfire.” Wiklund has responded to the comments by saying he understands the “the pain the temporary suspension is causing” and assuring users that Skout is working on enhancing safety measures for teens.
While teens who’ve found themselves locked out of their favorite social networking app are understandably upset, Wiklund believes he’s done the right thing, ”I’m disgusted by what’s happened here,” he told the New York Times, “One case is too many. When you have three, it looks like a pattern. This is my worst fear.”