Snapchat: the free mobile app that promotes itself as a disappearing act. Parents and educators need to know just enough to understand its attraction to children and adolescents and the potential problems that may occur
Teens and, yes, some tweens are now playing with Snapchat because it’s designed to make pictures disappear at their destination — in ten seconds or less.
I’ve tried to use the app, and pictures really do disappear. Voilà! The content is gone. So does this mean a child (or an adult) can go ahead and send all sorts of pictures?
Well, not exactly. Read A Warning about SnapChat, Teenagers, and Online Photo Sharing, appearing on February 11, 2013, over at the Forbes website.
After downloading and installing the Snapchat app on a mobile phone, a user chooses a picture, text, or drawing and decides how long to allow the picture to reside on the recipient’s screen — anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds. For Snapchat to work the sender must trust that the recipient will allow the picture to delete and that the recipient will be trustworthy and respect the wishes of the sender. Any user is supposed to be 13 or older.
So yes, the content does disappear, but even a picture residing for just a few seconds gives an unreliable recipient enough time to take a quick screenshot, preserving the image. Read this April 10, 2013 New Yorker article, Delete This Picture When You’re Done, by Matt Buchanan, who points out that the Snapchat site is handling over 60 million images a day. Another informative article is SnapChat: Sexting Tool or Next Instagram, a CNN report by Doug Gross.
A screenshot is easy to make, and every phone offers multiple and fast ways to accomplish the job. On an iPhone the quickest, two-second process is to hold down simultaneously the start/shut down button on the top right-hand corner of the phone and the round home button at the bottom center. This takes a snapshot of whatever is on your screen and sends it to the phone’s photo library. The Mashable blog features a post about screenshots, Here’s Why Your SnapChat Photos Aren’t Private.
The bottom line is that a person using social media needs to think — for a few seconds, or longer — before sending. Moreover, the sender also needs to have confidence that the recipient will allow the content to delete. If something needs to delete at its destination, that in itself may be a sufficient reason not to send it in the first place.
And so we have another conundrum. As a sixth grader asked me the other day, “Why were these invented if they cause so much trouble?”