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What Is Snapchat and Why Do Kids Love It and Parents Fear It?


Snapchat creates perishable pictures

You may have heard about Snapchat, the mobile app that allows users to capture videos and pictures that self destruct after a few seconds.  When users send a message, they get to decide whether it will live for between 1 and 10 seconds. After that it’s history, probably.

Screen capture is possible

Even though Snapchat doesn’t support saving received messages, Smartphone operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android do allow you to capture the screen. And, as retro as this might seem, it’s also possible to take a picture of the screen with another camera — such as a friend’s cell phone camera. Snapchat tries to notify the person taking the picture if it determines that the screen has been captured though there are ways around that too.

Sexting worries

There have been all sorts of press reports about Snapchat being used for “sexting” — taking naked or sexually suggestive pictures of yourself and sending them to someone else. And some worry that — because of screen capture — these pictures could wind up being circulated on the Internet.  While it is certainly possible to use Snapchat to send out inappropriate pictures, that’s not the primary use-case for the app.  I don’t know of any formal studies on how kids and others are using Snapchat, but I do know that lots of people use it for all sorts of images that have nothing to do with sex or nudity.

Snapchat lets you set the amount of time before a picture self-destructs between 1 and 10 seconds

Snapchat lets you set the amount of time before a picture self-destructs between 1 and 10 seconds

Snapchat lets you set the amount of time before a picture self-destructs between 1 and 10 seconds

Regarding nudity, in his appearance at at All Things D Dive into Mobile in April, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said “I don’t think that’s how the service is used typically,” according to The Verge’s live blog of the talk. “Usage falls off by 11PM,” he said. He added that “it’s not a great way to send inappropriate content.”  At the event last month, Spiegel said that there are about 150 million photos shared via Snapchat daily.

Having fun with their clothes on

But just because most teens and others aren’t sending out naked pictures, doesn’t mean that they’re not having fun with the service. There are all sorts of things people like to share for immediate consumption, ranging from wacky facial expressions to pictures of a meal they’re about to eat. It’s a way to share a moment with a specific friend and — in a way — a bit of an antidote to traditional social networking which is, well, kind of permanent. In fact, the motivation for creating the service – Spiegel told me and my co-director Anne Collier in a phone conversation — was to create a service that provided more privacy than Facebook on other social networks. Having said that, Spiegal is of course aware that it’s possible to capture a screen, even though it’s not the norm for Snapchat users.

Snapchat guide for parents

Because parents are concerned, Snapchat brought in a leading outside safety expert to help them create a Snachat Guide for Parents ”to provide parents with detailed  information about our product, as well as suggestions for how to handle issues and concerns that may arise.”

You can block a user on Snapchat

You can block a user on Snapchat

The guide explains:

  • Snapcat is not for children under 13. Children under 13 are prohibited but since Snapchat doesn’t ask for age on signup, parents or others need to report if a child under 13 is using it.
  • To send a message to someone on Snapchat you need to know their user name and add them to your “My Friends” list.
  • By default anyone who knows your username or phone number can send you a message, but you can configure Snapchat to only accept messages from people on your friends list.
  • You can block a user by finding their name in your friends list, swiping to the right on iOS or long-pressing in Android and selecting Edit.

Advice for parents

My advice for parents is to talk with your kids about Snapchat, Instagram and other photo-sharing apps. Don’t lecture them, don’t panic and don’t expect the worst.  Just ask them if they use these apps and what they’re doing with them. Chances are your kid already knows not to do anything really stupid, but it never hurts to calmly impart a little adult wisdom.


Snapchat Guide for Parents

Snapchat: Privacy as perishable as the photos (by Anne Collier)

Tech teens loving ‘Snapchat,’ what parents need to know

Download Snapchat on iTunes

Download Snapchat on Google Play

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