What You Should Know About Snapchat

selfieSnapchat is a free mobile app that lets the user exchange photos, texts, and videos with friends. What differentiates Snapchat from other apps is that the image or message “disappears” in one to ten seconds. Of Snapchat users, 70% are female, and approximately 71% are under the age of 25. It is the third most popular social media platform behind Facebook and Instagram.

For most teens, Snapchat offers a fun way to send silly, but innocent, pictures to friends in a private setting (without the image living on forever like it would on Facebook or Instagram). However, some teens use the app to share private information that isn’t appropriate for public forums. Because of the disappearing images, Snapchat has a reputation as a “sexting” app. (You can learn more about sexting in our previous blog: “Study Finds Majority of Minors Engage in Sexting.”) Snapchat can pose some tempting situations to teens: What pictures would you share if you thought the photos would only be visible for a few seconds? Teens don’t always use the best judgment in these situations.

So, if your teen has a smartphone, here are a few things that every parent should know about Snapchat:

  1. Users decide how long a message will remain active. When someone sends a picture or short video over Snapchat, they get to decide how long the recipient can view the content within a timeframe from 1 to 10 seconds. When the time limit is reached, the content disappears.
  2. The information doesn’t actually disappear. Snapchat claims that photos, messages, and videos sent via the app cannot be saved and are only viewable for 1 to 10 seconds before disappearing. While that is how the app is meant to work, there are several programs that people can install on their phone that can intercept and store any Snapchats sent to them. Additionally, recipients can always take a screenshot of the image and store it to their phone. While Snapchat has set up the app to notify the sender if the recipient takes a screenshot of an image, there are ways that a technologically-savvy teen can work around the notification. If you search in YouTube for ‘Snapchat hacks,’ you will see many videos that detail everything from how to bypass the 10 second countdown to how to capture screen shots of images without the sender being notified. These “work-arounds” negate the temporary and private aspects of the service.
  3. Expired messages can be recovered. Forensic experts say that any data can be retrieved from your cell phone, even if it was permanently deleted. Someone with technical expertise can recover photos that “disappeared” with Snapchat.
  4. Snapchat has experienced data breaches. Just like any other website, Snapchat is vulnerable to data breaches. In 2014, a hacker published a database containing 4.5 million Snapchat user names and phone numbers online. Other hackers have obtained photos from the app.
  5. Captured information can be used against you. Snapchat gives teens a false sense of security, which means that some teens share content they wouldn’t normally share on more public social media. Because they think that their message is safely private, some teens send scantily clad photos or sexually suggestive messages over Snapchat. Unfortunately, anything posted online can become public, and your posts can catch up with you. Embarrassing images can be used later for cyber bullying.
  6. Receiving underage nude photos constitutes child pornography. Even if your teen did not ask for anyone to send them a sexually charged message, if their friend “snaps” them a nude photo, your child can be charged with child pornography. According to Snapchat’s Terms of Use, once you create a Snapchat account, you accept total responsibility for whatever activity occurs while you are logged on. There have been instances of teens who have had to register as sex offenders (potentially ruining their future) because someone sent them a nude photo.
  7. Snapchat exposes your teen to advertising and “news” content. Due to its popularity, companies are paying millions of dollars to advertise to teens on the app. Your teen will be exposed to messages from fast food restaurants, clothing companies, colleges, and other businesses trying to reach young people. In addition, Snapchat recently launched a video feature called Discover that features content from other outlets. To cover a wide range of interests, Snapchat has partnered with CNN, Vice, Yahoo News, Comedy Central, National Geographic, Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, and Cosmopolitan. Discover’s content, which disappears after 24 hours, is not always appropriate for teenagers. Some of the videos and accompanying advertisements have included violence and foul language.
  8. Beware of Snapchat’s privacy. In Snapchat’s Terms of Use, the user agrees to grant the app access to their address book, uploading the information to its servers, which means that your teen’s private contact information (family and friends contact info) has been shared. Additionally, Snapchat states that when you send a snap to someone you give Snapchat license to use your content subject to your privacy settings. You and your teen need to decide together the appropriate privacy settings that will make you both feel comfortable.


Final Thoughts…

Like all digital communication tools, Snapchat has the potential to be used for good or bad. Talk to your teens about Snapchat and all forms of social media. Find common ground you can agree on. Discussing appropriate use and the risks of media with your teens can help prevent problems. Remind your teen that the only sure way to prevent inappropriate content from being distributed publicly is to not post it. Teens need to be aware that nothing online is 100% private. What they post now could surface later in life when they least expect it, so help them make wise choices to keep themselves safe.

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