What you should know about Yubo, the social media app where the Uvalde gunman made threats before the shooting
Millions of young people use the France-based app every day. Some of them met 18-year-old Salvador Ramos through the app where he threatened to shoot up schools in his livestreams
Yubo is a social video live-streaming app that promotes itself as “a place where anyone can belong, feel safe and hang out.” Millions of young people use the France-based app every day. Some of them met 18-year-old Salvador Ramos through the app where he threatened to shoot up schools in his livestreams.
They didn’t take him seriously.
Several Yubo users told CNN they had reported Ramos’ account to the app. A California teenage girl said she did so more than once after he threatened to rape and murder her. But, she said she “continued seeing him in livestreams making lewd comments.” An 18-year-old Canadian user named Hannah reported Ramos after he threatened to shoot up her school. She told CNN Ramos received a temporary ban. One 16-year-old user told The Washington Post he and his friends all reported Ramos’ account after he frequently made aggressive, sexual comments to young women on the app, but the account remained active.
So how does Yubo work and is it safe for teens?
The app has aspects of Tinder, Houseparty and other social media apps. Users can add or pass on potential friends by swiping right or left on their profile picture. If both people swipe right to say ‘yes’, then they can interact on the app. The main feature of Yubo is to start a live video chat with up to 10 friends and invite potential friends to join in. Users can connect with people all over the world based on interest and chat one-on-one. The App Store rates it for users 17+ and Google Play marks it ’T’ for Teen.
When the app launched in 2015, it was called Yellow and faced criticism for allowing anyone to join the app using a fake age. There were no safeguards in place to stop an adult from posing as someone much younger.
Yellow switched its name to Yubo in 2018 and continued its focus on livestreams. When users go live, anyone on the app can tune in and send messages.
Yubo’s Community Guidelines tell users not to share content promoting violence like guns. It also says users shouldn’t threaten or intimidate users. Yubo says it takes any rules broken seriously and “will carefully look into each case to determine the action required.” It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and human moderators to monitor content.
But people could still locate Salvador Ramos’ Yubo account four days after the shooting on May 24, according to Sky News. Yubo had said the account was banned after the attack and “technical delays” allowed it to be visible.
Yubo emailed a statement to several media outlets that said “at this stage, we are not legally able to release any specific user information” except to law enforcement.
With so many users claiming to have reported Ramos’ account, Yubo may have missed some serious digital red flags. While the app hasn’t responded to those concerns, it is attempting to face another, the lack of age verification.
Yubo has launched a feature that will pop up for existing users and be required for anyone creating a new account. The user will need to take a real-time photo and the “age estimation technology” will analyze it. If it detects the person to be a different age, they will need to upload a form of ID. Yubo claims it is 98.9% accurate and has a goal to verify every Yubo user by the end of the year.
While that is a good step to take toward ensuring people are who they claim to be on the app, a big, fat question still remains. With several teenagers telling ABC, CNN and the Washington Post that they and their friends repeatedly reported Ramos’ account, how was he still allowed on the Yubo app?
Yubo tells people to report users who don’t respect community guidelines and says it will conduct “a thorough investigation into the report.” Many did report Ramos’ account dozens of times for hate speech and harassment.
Yubo’s “whole team working reports to make sure the right call is taken” seemed to fail in this case.
Banning Ramos from Yubo may not have prevented the Uvalde attack. But if he desired to see reactions from users when he posted photos of his guns, or made violent threats, at least that option would have been taken away.
Yubo is not responsible for the Uvalde shooting, but it must do better at keeping hate speech, harassment and threats of violence off of its platform.