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Understanding AirDrop 'Crossfire'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Maybe you've been a victim. Riding the subway, passing a passel of teenagers on the street - suddenly, your phone flashes a request for you to accept wacky emojis and photos. Welcome to AirDrop crossfire. Taylor Lorenz writes about this sign of the times in The Atlantic. She joins us on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.

TAYLOR LORENZ: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: I have the scholarly advantage of living with two teenagers. For those who don't know what AirDrop crossfire is, what is it?

LORENZ: Sure. So AirDrop is a feature on iPhones where you can easily send images, photos and different types of media via Bluetooth. So you don't have to be on Wi-Fi. And you don't have to have the person in your contacts. So it's a popular way for kids to kind of just blast out memes and joke pictures to people around them.

SIMON: Yeah - whether they know them or not.

LORENZ: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, the fun is doing it with people you don't know. So if you're, you know, in a crowded subway, waiting for a concert to begin, at a school assembly, just start kind of blasting out funny memes as a joke.

SIMON: Yeah. So you mean they're not blasting out articles from The Atlantic or summaries of the news from NPR or...

LORENZ: I would love that if they were. It's usually more SpongeBob memes and just sort of silly images they find on the Internet, things like that.

SIMON: I gather it can also be used for more ugly things, too - right? - bullying and cheating.

LORENZ: Yeah, definitely. So I spoke to a couple teachers and school administrators at different districts. And, you know, AirDrop cheating is an issue. A lot of schools have Wi-Fi off. People have to put their phones away. But kids will snap a picture of the test and then AirDrop it to classmates who have the class later in the day. It can also be used for bullying. You can AirDrop a really unflattering picture or, you know, illicit photos of other people to tons of people in the school really easily. So it can be really used for more negative purposes, too, in that kind of environment.

SIMON: Is AirDropping becoming what amounts to its own social network that doesn't rely on major platforms?

LORENZ: Sort of. It's a way to get around these platforms. I mean, on all social platforms and text messaging, you have to have people's numbers in your phone. There's - AirDrop is sort of like this pop-up, location-based, anonymous message board where everyone can just, you know, spam out different things to the people around them. And, you know, if you want to leave, you can just turn your AirDrop off or walk away. So yeah. It's a little bit more fluid than actual, structured social networks.

SIMON: If somebody doesn't want to be part of the AirDrop experience, what can they do?

LORENZ: They can just turn their settings on AirDrop to contacts only or receiving off. It's pretty easy if you just search AirDrop in your settings.

SIMON: Taylor Lorenz - her article in The Atlantic is called "When Grown-Ups Get Caught In Teens' AirDrop Crossfire." Thanks so much for coming in and out of the crossfire and speaking with us.

LORENZ: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.