SnapChat

SnapChat is an app which is continuing to grow in popularity, especially with young people. The app allows users to share photos, videos and messages instantly, which are then deleted a few seconds after they have been seen.

The premise of images ‘disappearing’ after they’ve been viewed bestows users with a false sense of security. Many believe the app is safer than other social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Lately, however, we have seen various cases in the news which suggest that SnapChat may pose a danger to young people.

Rising popularity

In November 2015 Facebook announced it had reached over 1.5billion users for the first time after launching in 2004. Following the creation of SnapChat in 2011 by the then-19-year-old Evan Spiegel, the app has now signed-up almost 200 million users. Devotees of SnapChat have come to include celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Tinie Tempah, who use the platform to offer fans a quick peek into their everyday lives.

‘Selfie’ culture has encouraged the use of these types of apps. The fact that they also provide a great way to share moments with friends and family, far and wide, has also made them more popular than ever. SnapChat continues to roll out new features, which include saving pictures and videos and the ability to re-play them – making them even more appealing to youngsters.

The problems

The core audience of SnapChat is ‘tweens’ – people below the age of 18. Tweens can be naïve and vulnerable to the various pitfalls of an app which encourages sharing of personal images and messages. For instance, a 17-year-old boy was jailed for a year because he blackmailed two 14-year-old boys to send explicit images to him, threatening to hack their social media accounts and X-box profiles if they refused.

The majority of SnapChat users are teenagers and many people have been using the app for ‘sexting’ and sending explicit images of themselves. These pictures and messages can often be saved without the original user’s knowledge, through smart print-screening and alternative apps, and they can be stored, copied and distributed via messaging apps such as WhatsApp across networks of people.

Campaigners are calling for tougher sentencing and harsher punishments to protect children against cyberbullying and sexual exploitation Apps such as SnapChat are seen to be a large part of the problem. Critics are quick to blame those who send the initial picture for misplacing trust in people who are receiving the images; prevention it seems is more effective than cure.

Protecting yourself online

There are countless cases online where information has been leaked and can severely damage someone’s online reputation. Often, such stories rank highly in Google, for a name search, and prove challenging to remove. Unwanted information may remain online for a lengthy period. The effects of this on someone’s personal life and professional career can be devastating.

Here are some tips for teenagers for keeping yourself protected when sharing photos, videos and messages:

  • Don’t take risks: Even if you set your photo to be available for one second, that’s long enough for someone to save it and share it elsewhere. Whether it’s just among close friends or a wider network your photo is at the mercy of the person receiving it, so it’s not worth taking the risk.
  • Only accept requests from friends: Never accept a request from someone you don’t know. Make sure you double-check you’ve ticked the right recipient and be careful with stories, which can be seen by your whole friends list. If your images are seen by a parent or teacher, they might not necessarily have the same sense of humour as your closest friends!
  • Disconnect and report: If you become the victim of any kind of harassment, bullying or hurtful messages online, then simply remove that user from your friends list and report them to SnapChat.

Parental responsibility

Increasingly, teenagers are using social media sites and have access to smartphones which enable them to download apps such as SnapChat and WhatsApp. Regardless of someone’s age, a quick Google of their name will bring up relevant online information about that person, including their online activity. It doesn’t matter if someone is below the age of 18, they still need to effectively manage their online activity effectively and ensure they are safe online.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your child is acting responsibly online and understands their digital footprint. Igniyte’s Guide to Managing Your Teenager’s Personal Information Online provides further detail on the ways in which your child can be protected, which requires common sense behaviour.