The app itself is available for i OS and Android and asks users to create a miniature profile by either importing information from Facebook or just punching in a username, email address, password (and, of course, a profile picture)goofy to creepy pretty quickly, with the chatrooms full of abusive language and invitations from strangers to start "chatting in private" - an especially worrying feature given that the sign-up age is just 13 years old and requires no external verification (and users can always choose to hide their age).
"When teachers are hammering you with the scary, nitty-gritty details of sex—yet your friends are pressuring you to do it—engaging in an act reminiscent of sex is almost like a safe compromise," says 20-year-old Lauren,* who often exchanges suggestive pictures and texts with her long-distance boyfriend.
"In a mature relationship with someone I trust and am able to talk to, sexting can be really nice.
It's not the first app to strong-arm users into posting what is essentially free advertising, but it does seems a particularly coercive example.
All in all, it's easy to see what Meow Chat has become so popular so quickly, but it seems like the app is not completely harmless - especially for younger users.
While Kat has never sexted, she admits she's thought about it: "I have a boyfriend now, and sometimes I feel like it might lighten the mood or make things fun," she says.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about the legal stuff at all."Many teens don't.The app itself has actually been around for at least a year, but is gaining popularity fast with its combination of Whats App-style messaging (you can send text, images or audio clips) and a Tinder-esque matching system that lets users jump into one-on-one or group chats with strangers near their location.This mechanism means that despite its cartoon livery of ginger cats, Meow Chat combines some of more Wild West elements of socializing online – its chat rooms are chaotic, full of belligerent and friendly users in pretty much equal measure, and the one-on-one chats are as unpredictable as that stalwart of the genre: Chat Roulette.Boys feel the pressure too, she says: "I think guys ask for pictures with the expectation that the girl will say no, but they ask anyway because they feel like that's part of being a guy."While both genders create and send around risqué images—sexting often seems to include a promise of reciprocity, an "I'll send you mine if you send me yours" sort of thing—in almost all instances reported in the media, it's the girl's photo that goes viral, which can make the exchange far more dangerous for her."Guys are more open to showing their friends pictures of a girl, either because they think she's hot or because they want to make fun of her," Kat says.Rachel was in seventh grade when she got her first sext request.