5 Things Parents Need to Know about SnapChat
SnapChat is a popular messaging app, especially among teenagers. It features the ability to send photos, messages, and videos that “self-destruct” after viewing by the recipient.
The existence of such a possibility makes lots of parents antsy—very antsy. Why, after all, would you need a self-destruct capability if you are not trying to hide something? And isn’t SnapChat known as “the sexting app”?
While parents are wary, lots of kids are just having fun in the hype-free space created by Snapchat—a space where they can be themselves without the pressure generated by other social media.
In teens’ minds, Facebook is all about painstakingly crafting a perfect (read: fake) image, and Instagram feels like a popularity scoreboard. SnapChat, on the other hand, lets teens relax and be real. They send goofy faces and silly situations without the worry of marring their digital persona.
Of course, the promised “temporary” nature of the images, messages, and videos may encourage the sharing of secretive stuff too—like sending nudes or having undesirable conversations. It definitely happens in this space where kids feel a little freer to “be themselves.”
5 Things Parents Need to Know about SnapChat (and make sure their kids are clear about, too!)
- The images, messages, and videos are NOT temporary. Contrary to SnapChat’s false promises, the images are permanent because they are data. Data doesn’t disappear. Self-destructed images can be forensically recovered from smartphones in a few simple steps.
- It is increasingly possible for any user to capture the material sent on SnapChat. Screenshots have always been possible. Now there are apps that facilitate saving of snaps before they self-destruct. Apparently there are plenty of creepy people who want to capture Snapchat images. Just Google: “How to save Snaps without the sender knowing,” and you’ll get a gazillion web pages with step-by-seedy-step instructions.
- Some users capture images for private consumption (i.e., re-viewing by the recipient). In some cases, the images are being used to bully or blackmail and there is even a website that went viral last year where captured snaps were uploaded so anyone could view the full range—from embarrassing to risqué.
- The makers of SnapChat have a dodgy record with privacy. Early in 2014, 4.6 million users’ phone numbers and user names were posted to the internet. The makers had to front up to the US FTC to explain their misleading advertising and privacy policies. This blunder is worrisome, considering the bulk of SnapChat’s users is aged between 13 and 23.
- The presence of SnapChat on your teens’ devices does not automatically mean they are sexting. There’s a good chance they are using it for fun. Ask them to show you the app and lead the conversation around to inappropriate use. Ask them if they know anyone who uses it to send nudes. (N.B.: The word “Sexting” is not part of the teen lexicon. It’s a term that to them smacks of adult hysteria, and as such, may make them defensive.) Be sure your teens are aware of the messy legal implications of sexting.
SnapChat isn’t the only app that promises self-destructing images and chat. After their 3 billion dollar offer to buy out SnapChat was refused, Facebook announced development of its own version called Slingshot. Blink is Yahoo’s version, and there are more on the market.
Applied Common Sense
The best defence is common sense. Parents and schools can equip young people by teaching digital citizenship and honing critical thinking skills. Skills and clear thinking outgun filters and outright bans in this battle.