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Secret Conversations on Facebook: a parent’s guide

There’s a little-known feature on Facebook that allows your child to send and receive private messages and images you won’t be able to see, even if you have the log in details to their account. Here’s what parents need to know about Secret Conversations

Secret Conversations offers Facebook users the chance to talk privately to their friends via a link within its Messenger app for phones and tablets.

Knowing their Facebook login won’t help

Messages can only be viewed on the device from which they’ve been sent. Which means that if, like many parents, you let your child start using Facebook on the understanding that you have their password and can monitor what they’re doing, you won’t be able to see the messages unless you’re accessing them on the phone or tablet they were sent from.

Messages can be set to disappear

If you’ve seen Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible or watched the old TV series it’s based on, you’ll be familiar with the phrase ‘This message will self-destruct in five seconds.’
Secret Conversations offers the same option, with the ability to set a time limit for your message before it deletes automatically.

Messages are private

Like WhatsApp (which is also owned by Facebook) chats are encrypted end-to-end so no one, not even Facebook, can read what’s been said, or view what’s been shared. 
These two functions allow absolute privacy for your child’s messages – something that would obviously appeal to teenagers. In the vast majority of cases, this won’t cause your child any problems as they will be talking to people they know and trust – it’s perfectly normal for children and young people to want to keep parts of their life private.
But parents should be aware of the risk that Secret Conversations could leave children vulnerable if the person they’re talking to doesn’t have their best interests at heart. 
Someone wanting to send abusive messages or sexual images could, for example, set them to disappear seconds after your child has seen them, meaning the evidence has gone and your child may not ask for support without proof of what’s happened, alongside the fear of getting in trouble. 
So what can you do to help your child navigate Secret Conversations safely?

What parents need to know

You may be tempted to ban your child from using any apps you feel could put them at risk online. This may work when they’re young, particularly when at a primary school age, but they can sign up for Facebook and Messenger from the age of 13 without your permission. If they think you don’t approve of them using it, they’re more likely to do so behind your back – and, therefore, less likely to come to you for help if something goes wrong.
Instead, talk to your child. If they’re using or know about these type of features, tell them about your worries and what you would like them to do if they see something harmful. Make sure they know how to block and report users who might upset or try to harm them, and that they feel comfortable talking to you or another trusted adult about any bad experiences they may have. 

The important stuff

  • Secret Conversations are an opt-in function of Messenger, meaning you have to switch it on to use it.

  • It’s available on iOS and Android for phones and tablets.

  • Like Snapchat, you can set your Secret Conversations messages to self-destruct after a given period of time, from five seconds to 24 hours. A countdown displays when the message is opened, so whoever reads it can see how long they have before it disappears. You can turn this off if you want, so messages will stay until you delete them. (Read how to send messages here.)

  • You can send messages, photos, videos and stickers.

  • Messages can only be viewed on the device from which they’re sent. If you switch devices, you’ll need to opt in to use Secret Conversations again, and you’ll only see the messages you send and receive on that device, not any you’ve sent before on other devices.

  • If you delete a message, it doesn’t delete the other person’s version, whether you sent the message or they did. This obviously has implications if your child shares something and later wants to delete it.  They will have to ask the other person in the conversation to delete it – and then trust that they have.

  • Even if you set a message or image to self-destruct, the person you send it to can screenshot it so it could still exist after its disappeared from the app.

How to block and report on Secret Conversations

  • Encourage your child to tell you or another adult they trust about any contact that’s made them feel upset or uncomfortable.

  • If someone sends your child a message or image that’s abusive, sexual and/or makes them feel uncomfortable or upset, teach them block and/or report the person who sent it (see next point) and report the conversation.
  • To do so, open the secret conversation you want to report. Click on the person’s name at the top of the conversation and then on Block or Report and choose the required option.

  • Select a category explaining why you want to block or report the message and explain why in your own words before hitting Send.

  • When you report a secret conversation, recent messages from that conversation will be decrypted and sent securely from your device to Facebook’s Help Team to review. They don’t tell the person you’ve been talking to that you’ve reported it. [1]

Further reading

[1] Your child can control who sees their Facebook posts by editing their privacy settings on the app. Find out how.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
Updated: January 2019

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