What is SnapChat?
SnapChat is a mobile app that allows users to take a photo – known as a “snap” – then caption it (or draw on it) before sending it to one or more other SnapChat users. The recipient of the SnapChat will only be able to view the snap for up to 10 seconds (as predetermined by the creator). After this, the snap disappears and cannot be re-viewed. SnapChat also facilitates 10 second videos.
SnapChat is fun because it provides a forum for friends to share visual, quick, humourous, informative updates or messages with friends. There is novelty in the fact that the snap only last up to 10 seconds, and the fact that users can embellish the photo with paint options before sending. These two elements appear to be the key to its success.
What are the age restrictions?
Users must be over the age of 13 to use SnapChat. Users aged between 13 and 17 ought to seek parental permission before using it. Those who are under the age of 13 are permitted to use SnapKidz, a version of SnapChat especially modified for under-13s.
What are the risks?
The nature of SnapChat has encouraged some cheeky, provocative and inappropriate photos to be taken and shared, reducing user’s inhibitions because they feel security in believing the photos will disappear after 10 seconds. Sexting (naked or semi-naked photos) is one example of dangerous SnapChat activity. One need only to Google Image Search “leaked SnapChats” to see what type of snaps have been sent and captured.
For although it is marketed that snaps “disappear” after viewed for up to 10 seconds, there are work arounds that users have found. This means that the images sent via SnapChat can become a permanent image that can then be re-distributed or uploaded online. For example, users can take a screenshot of their phone’s screen while the snap is being viewed – this saves a copy of that snap to the recipient’s Gallery. The danger is that these cheeky, provocative and inappropriate photos that were sent to a select few individuals in good humour may end up a permanent fixture in Google’s search results. The result of this, and other risks, include:
- Receiving/sending snaps to strangers (if user’s allow non-SnapChat friends to send them snaps, or if users share their SnapChat username publicly, say on Instagram)
- Illegal sexting – underage sexting is an offence in Australia and those caught with sexts of minors can be charged with creating, possessing or distributing child pornography
- Digital footprint/reputation – if inappropriate sexts end up online they may damage one’s digital reputation, impacting on future employment and academic prospects
- Bullying, self-esteem issues and in more extreme cases, depression, self-harm and suicide as a result of leaked snaps
What can parents do?
- Understand that snaps can be permanently saved by recipients – communicate this to your child
- Encourage your child not to snap anything they wouldn’t be comfortable with being put up online – because it could happen!
- Encourage your child to adjust their SnapChat privacy settings so that only their accepted SnapChat friends can send them snaps
- Go through your child’s SnapChat friends list with them to make sure they are only friends with people they know
SnapChat is a novel way to communicate that can be a lot of fun when used correctly. SnapChat is not something parents need to completely freak out about, but it is something they need to be aware of. It all comes down to the age-old rule of ”think before you post” – your child needs to understand that anything that is sent via SnapChat has as much chance of being permanently available online as something they post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
References and more information:
SnapChat Guide for Parents (by SnapChat)
A Parent’s Guide to SnapChat (by connectsafely.org)
Fun examples of snaps (Elite Daily)
A Parent’s Take on SnapChat (Mashable)