Over the last two years, I have been reporting a migration of teens (digital natives) to an emerging social media sector – self-destructing messaging apps. Snapchat is clearly the dominant and most popular application in this area. I have reported several times about Snapchat and why parents should be concerned about allowing their child to have this app on their device.
SnapChat allows the user to send text, images, and video to another Snapchat user. The recipient receives a notification that the sender has sent them a “snap” and it will appear in their Snapchat inbox. The sender must assign a lifespan to that message. It can be up to 10 seconds for images and texts, and longer for videos. Once the recipient opens the message, they must hold their finger on the screen for the message to play and count down to zero. The finger on the screen is to discourage the recipient from taking a screen shot, which is usually a two handed operation. Once the message reaches zero on the timer, the message deletes itself from the recipient’s phone. Or does it?
I teach a Cyber Safety Cop Workshop to thousands of students every year. It gives me the opportunity to ask them their feelings about social media and how they communicate with each other. Students are clearly telling me they are choosing Snapchat as one of their primary ways to communicate with each other. Why are they choosing Snapchat? The following are the reasons stated by a 15-year-old on her blog. These are the same reasons I hear from my students:
- There’s no social pressure. No likes, no comments, just views that only you can see.
It’s quick and easy. Open Snapchat and take a photo, add it to story. Now all your friends can be jealous in real-time that they couldn’t go to the party because they had to study like a good boy. Instagram is a lengthy process to say the least.
- It’s the place now. Instagram is getting a bit.. a bit.. a bit too old. I hate to say it, Snapchat is the hottest thing out and it’s where all your friends are constantly checking, they may check Instagram once or twice a day but they’re checking Snapchat 20 times a day.
Ephemeral. When you’re about post a Instagram photo, you will feel this pressure. It’s a big event. When you’re adding a photo/video to Snapchat story, it’s seamless.
- Caption. There’s something so simple and eye catching with Snapchat’s captions that everybody loves. People would literally choose to share on Snapchat compared to Instagram just for the caption feature.
- You know who’s watching. Throughout high school or college, people like feeling cool, like sharing things that make them feel cool. Knowing who saw your post gives that person 10x confidence because the person that they wanted to see their post had to physically hold down their name to view what they posted. It’s complicated but if you’re teen savvy, you’ll get it. (Buisnessinsider.com, 2015)
Should parents and students who use Snapchat be concerned? Yes.
Parents should be concerned because an application that auto-deletes a message after it is read makes it impossible for them to review the content of what their child is sending or receiving. Kids know this. They may be using Snapchat to send appropriate messages most of the time, but I receive screen shots from students who are using Snapchat as a way to send images or videos to their friends without fear of their parents finding out. I often receive screen shots of “snaps” from concerned students. Below are two examples. One is of a student that had previously been expelled from school for possession on marijuana on campus, but returned the following semester promising that he had given up smoking pot to his mother and the school. The second image is a student that has been struggling with depression, anxiety, and cutting. She moved from cutting her arms to cutting her stomach to hide it from her parents. In both cases the student and parent was contacted and appropriate counseling was provided. If not for the actions of two students sending me these screen shots, their respective parents would have never known.
Students should be concerned because if they are using Snapchat to share inappropriate or compromising messages, thinking their images and videos are safe, they are WRONG. If the two images above are not convincing enough, a quick search online will reveal many similar stories of a Snapchat going viral through a school and destroying a student’s reputation. Several third-party applications will record “snaps” without the sender knowing. Snapchat is NOT safe.
Cyber Safety Cop’s Recommendations:
Parents should explain to their child that once you send a message to another person, you have no control of what happens to that message. Never send anything that would embarrass you. Snapchat is not safe. As a parent, you must have the ability to see everything your child is doing online. That includes their message and browser history.
Any application (Snapchat) that does not allow a parent the ability to review their child’s online activity should NOT be allowed on their child’s device.
Snapchat and other emerging applications as well as what a parent/educator/law enforcement officer should do to keep their kids safe is covered in Cyber Safety Cop’s Workshops.