I have been spending a lot of time lately with tweens and teens learning about how they are using all sorts of social media. I’ve heard stories of connection and of cyberbullying. Stories about rumours and damage to reputations. I have also witnessed how quickly something on social media can escalate into a real-life crisis.
One such crisis in recent weeks originated via Snapchat. Once the crisis was dealt with I decided to research this ‘new to me’ app. I was surprised at how popular it is. As of September 21st Snapchat users were sending 350 million photos daily.
What is it? A mobile app for “real-time picture chatting”. Theoretically, Snapchat allows users to send a photo that then disappears after 1 -10 seconds. The creators of this app refer to it as “a new way to share moments with friends. Snap an ugly selfie (a self-portrait) or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They’ll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears…”
Sounds like a reasonable, fun idea. Yet it raises some red flags for me.
First, do the photos really “disappear”?
According to Snapchat, “in most cases once the recipient has viewed a message, it is automatically deleted from Snapchat’s servers and cannot be retrieved by anyone, for any reason”.
Hmm. Sounds a bit sketchy to me. I know 10 seconds isn’t long but I suspect one would be able to take a screenshot in that time frame.
In their Parent Guide, ConnectSafely.org says “Snapchat lets you know when your message has been opened and—usually—if it has been captured and saved by the recipient. We say “usually” because it doesn’t work 100% of the time and there are workarounds, including some “hacks” and the ability to take a picture of the screen with a camera, including a friend’s cell phone camera.”
Second, what is being sent? A question to which I do not have the answer. I have heard stories from youth about how it has been used for harassment. Though the most common concern raised in several articles I read is the potential for this app to be used for ‘sexting’. Which can be a scary prospect for parents and for others who care about young people and want them to be safe.
For those who are concerned about safety Snapchat offers a Guide for Parents.  The most important thing the SnapChat people and ConnectSafely say is “it’s important to keep the lines of communication with your kids as open as possible and work together to figure out what’s appropriate for them, in terms of safety, privacy, reputation and time management.”
Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA