With Meerkat, the Butt-Dial Goes Nuclear

Livestream video for everybody—including teenagers! Imagine the possibilities.

A one month old meerkat pup walks by its mother after emerging from an underground burrow at the San Francisco Zoo March 18, 2002 in San Francisco, CA. A litter of five pups was born in February.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Meerkat is a new app that stole the show at South by Southwest by making it dead simple to livestream video from your phone to your Twitter followers. But it is proving too simple for a lot of people who end up following this general course of events:

  1. Journalist (who didn't mute #SXSW on Twitter) sees incessant chatter about an app called Meerkat.
  2. Journalist feels a creeping sense of dread and downloads the app, hoping to delay his or her obsolescence another day.
  3. Journalist sets up a Meerkat account, automatically linking to Twitter, and decides to give it a whirl. 
  4. Journalist instantly posts a livestream to Twitter, consisting of his or her office-mates hastily trying to explain how Meerkat works. 

The app certainly fills a need. Journalists now have the capability to turn any event into a livestream. They can put up a few Meerkat posts from press conferences instead of flooding Twitter with observations, 140-characters at a time. 

But with great apps comes great potential to shine a light on the darker corners of the Internet. Meerkat may be transformative—but it's also the clear and present danger in at least two ways. 

1. Office Mishaps

It's already been proven that it's very possible to send an accidental Meerkat, at least for a person who doesn't understand how the app works. It happened here at Bloomberg Politics, as well as at other organizations. A "Butt Meerkat"—involving, say, broadcasting the proceedings of a secret meeting, also seems within the realm of Meerkat possibility. 

2. Teenagers Behaving Terribly

Teenagers have proved to be incredibly adept at taking social media and using it to destroy lives, as well as faith in humanity. There was the kid who snapchatted a selfie next to his alleged murder victim. There were the kids who used Snapchat to harass a classmate with racial slurs. Then there's Yik Yak, the anonymous posting app students like to use to say horrible things about each other.  It's no stretch to imagine that someone could be filmed against his or her will and be powerless to stop that video from going public. Live broadcasts of embarrassing or humiliating or personal moments by cruel teens is inevitable. The recent story about the Penn State fraternity that had a Facebook page devoted to nude photos of non-consenting, unconscious women raises the specter of equally predatory behavior via Meerkat. Then there are the people who like to send threatening and sexually explicit material out into the world. There are no doubt some who are looking to expand their audiences beyond the capabilities of Snapchat videos. Of course, the more subtle exhibitionists also run the risk of making a mistake  similar to former Representative Anthony Weiner's, and could accidentally use Meerkat instead of a more private platform.