I’ve been hearing about an app called Snapchat for about a year now. I am not a user of the app myself, but it has made a lot of waves and is particularly popular among teenagers. Snapchat allows users to send pictures, videos and messages which only last for a few seconds (between 1 and ten) and then the media disappears, leaving no digital trace (or does it? more on that in a minute). It’s touted for enabling “spontaneity” and allows the user to experience things in “real time.”
How many people are using Snapchat now? The most recent statistics I can find put the average number of monthly users at 100 million. And according to this video, it is THE social app to look out for because it “murders Facebook” (their words, not mine). While I’m often leery of big proclamations about the “next big thing” in anything, there is no denying that Snapchat is making an impression on a younger demographic and is worth some discussion.
Snapchat’s largest base of users are between 13 and 23. That means if you have a teenager, there is a good chance he or she is either using it already, or has friends that do. So, what’s important to know about this app?
1.) It has a reputation as the “sexting” app
Because the pictures and video have a limited shelf life, it is desirable because users assume that means they are leaving no digital trace of their naughty pics and messages. But there ARE WAYS to save the images and messages, including using another phone to take a picture of it, or with a simple screenshot. Users should never ASSUME anything about their digital footprint. Advise your family members who may use this app that they should follow the same rules as other social media – never post something you don’t want the world to see.
2.) It can be used for bullying
Again, because of the limited shelf life of the media, some report Snapchat has been used for harassment and bullying. Ask your teen if they are aware of any of this behavior. Ask if they have witnessed or been subjected to it. Remind them that you won’t allow bullying and that they should speak to an adult if they are being harassed or know someone involved in bullying.
3.) It carries similar risks as other social media when it comes to strangers
Teen users especially should keep their network of friends on Snapchat to actual real-life friends – and only friends they really trust, as the fleeting nature of teen friendships could mean a controversial picture could come back to haunt them. Advise your teen NOT to connect with strangers or mere acquaintances on Snapchat – or any social media for that matter.
4.) It allows them to easily hide conversations from parents
If you have a “we will monitor regularly” type agreement with your child with regard to their device and online activity, then Snapchat is going to make that very difficult. Checking histories and message archives won’t reveal much because of the limited shelf life of conversations and pictures. If you are concerned about secrecy with your teen, consider making this app off limits.
As always, I’d like to remind you again that a conversation is your best security defense. We can’t keep new apps and devices out of our kids’ hands forever, nor do we want to. But understanding what is going on with newer, hotter apps, games and devices is what is going to help you guide your child in their growth as a secure and civil online citizen.