I often get asked for advice on particular apps and social networks that kids are using and their appropriateness for kids of different ages.Today I am looking at Snapchat. But like all the apps I look at, it comes with this disclaimer: There is no such thing as safe social networking sites, there can only ever be safe users. Whilst many apps come with age ratings, I believe age alone does not determine whether an app is suitable for a particular person. One child may be able to responsibly interact online via an app or website that another child of a similar age or even older may not. You know your child best, so always learn all you can about the new technologies so you can make an informed decision about what works for your child and your family. Remember, whilst it is good to have an understanding of the types of apps and social networking sites your kids will be exposed to, keeping up can be difficult as they move from one app to the next. So be informed and get an understanding of the world your child is living in, and start teaching them the skills to be safe wherever they find themselves online.
Snapchat is a photo and video sharing app that allows users to send a photo or video and choose whether it stays ‘live’ for 1-10 seconds. Once the image or video has been viewed and that time is up, the photo or video ‘disappears’ or is deleted from the receivers feed. Snapchat have now added a ‘chat’ by text messaging and a video messaging feature. You can also draw pictures and write captions over the top of photos.
Finding people to chat with on Snapchat
The ‘Find Friends’ feature allows users to look up the usernames of people whose phone number is on their device. You then add those users to your “My Friends” list. (Users must have first tapped the icon ‘Allow my friends to find me’ before they can be found and added).
What is your Snapchat Story?
A Snapchat Story is a group of images taken over a 24 hour period. They live a little longer than regular snaps but will self destruct after 24 hours. You can determine if this is viewed by “your friends’ list, a custom list of friends or the public.
Minimum Age Requirement for Snapchat
The minimum age requirement is 13 + .Those between the ages of 13 and 17 are required to have parent consent and those under 13 will be directed to the more child friendly “Snapkidz” app.
Apple and Android phones and tablets and ipod touch.
Why do people love Snapchat?
Spontaneous sending and viewing of images allows a feeling of living “in the moment’. It was created on the belief that by deleting the photos, it takes away some of the pressure of photos being permanent and on display to invisible audiences. There is also the feeling of having to present ‘perfection’ online when sharing photos and videos, and sometimes people just want to be more honest or real with those close to them. I recently read about some grandparents actually using it with their children to receive snaps about their grandkids doing ordinary , everyday things that are not something they want ‘online’ as such, but are purely something to help keep the family in touch with a more ‘real time’ connection.
What are the Risks?
Risks arise from the user being lulled in to a false sense of security in believing their photos ‘disappear. Photos can still hang around via a screenshot. The recipient taking a screenshot renders the photo just as permanent as any other photo online. Whilst Snapchat does endeavour to inform the user when a Snapchat someone has sent has been screenshot, there is little that can be done to ensure the privacy of that photo. There is also no way of knowing if a photo of the photo is taken with another device. Other technology such as Snaphack have also been created to ‘un-delete’ the photos, rendering the original delete premise untrue. Snapchat has also been dubbed the ‘sexting app’ for again enticing a more risqué approach to photo sharing based on the belief the photos will disappear. It is against the law to send any sexually explicit pictues of a person under 18 regardless of consent, purpose or motive. Teens have in the past had photos they intended for one person, or for seconds only, embarrassingly shared and put on display with the transparencies of a normal online image. The latest update of Snapchat has the slightly odd addition of having to allow your location services switched to ON, in order to use any filters on your images. Previously you could choose between visual filters which didn’t require location data and Smart filters which allowed the temperature of your location to be recorded on the image via the My Weather Channel. Obviously that required locations services to be turned ON. Now however, there is an all or nothing approach to the filters and location services need to be turned on even if you just want to add visual filters thus exposing the exact location of someone sharing a photo or video.
What settings can help reduce these risks?
Obviously you decide who receives your photos, so you need to be sure you sending only to people who you trust to keep those photos deleted and not copied and saved. You can set it up Snapchat to only receive images or video from friends. Go to ‘Settings‘, ‘who can’, ‘Send me snaps’ and click ‘My friends‘ (not everyone). You can insist on only sharing your photos with friends and therefore only sharing your username with them and not advertising this on any other social media networks. Unwanted snapchatters can be blocked or deleted from your friends list.
What behaviours can help reduce these risks?
Always think before you send. As with anything online there is always the risk of permanence and the risk of people seeing it whom you didn’t intend. Remember to ask yourself, ‘Is there anyone in the world I don’t want to see this?’ Now obviously you may not want everyone to see it, but you should at least be thinking ‘Is this going to cause any real harm to myself or anyone else if anyone else does happen to see it?’. Just as you should ask permission before posting a pic of someone else online, it is obviously good online etiquette to refrain from saving something that wasn’t meant to be saved. As with all social media apps, respecting oneself and respecting others must be the number one priority.
Can it be monitored?
This is one of the more difficult apps to monitor due to the very nature of the photos and interactions being quickly deleted. You can check to see who has sent images and who images have been sent to, you just cant see the actual photo or video if it has already been viewed.
What if you are getting bullied or harassed?
Go to My friends, click on the user, press Edit, then block or delete. If you need to report abuse, go to firstname.lastname@example.org
Confide for self destructing messaging, Wickr for messages, photos and videos that delete and Facebooks new Slingshot app
Remember, ultimately it is your choice as a parent to decide whether you think particular apps are appropriate for your child. Making informed decisions and understanding how your kids engage with the online world, should always be done in conjunction with the teaching of critical thinking skills to be safe wherever they hangout online as well as an ongoing conversation that changes as the technology and your child changes.