It’s wildly popular and potentially dangerous. Snapchat is now among the top most used apps for teens. The photo and video messaging app can be a ton of fun for friends, but it also has the potential to be extremely risky. Snapchat can provide a false sense of internet security among young users and is constantly making headlines as a fan favorite among predators. If that’s not scary enough, Snapchat has also been linked by researchers and investigators to privacy issues, addiction, depression, bullying, and even suicide.
This is one app the Smart Social team is urging parents to take a close look at because there is a good chance it is already on your teen’s phone.
Predators are using Snapchat to groom and locate minors:
Snapchat is constantly making headlines for being used by predators to target victims and unfortunately many of those victims are minors.
Child predator used Snapchat to target victims, according to ABC
“Multiple law enforcement agencies came together to solve an investigation where a man was offering indecent proposals to a 14-year-old girl. Tulsa Police Department detectives posed as the intended victim in an undercover operation through Snapchat.”
“[The predator] used the app to contact and ask the girl (who happened to be a Tulsa Police detective) for sexual acts and admitted during the conversations to trying to do the same thing with her earlier in the week.”
An article from NBC talks about how students are prime targets for predators on Snapchat and how they delete the app before they get home so it stays hidden from their parents
“Everyday millions of people hold down that center button on the hottest social media app around, Snapchat. Experts say children maybe prime targets for predators. [Recently] a man was arrested for sending naked pictures through Snapchat to an underage girl.”
“[A middle school student interviewed by NBC] said kids at [their] school will sometimes delete the app before they get home to hide what they’re sending socially from their parents, but before they get to school the next day [they’ll add the app back onto their phones].”
What can go wrong on Snapchat:
Unfortunately, there are several reports of Snapchat resulting in serious, real-life repercussions.
Being bullied on Snapchat resulted in a student taking their own life, according to the Denver Post
“[A] freshman who died by suicide was bullied on social media and at school by teenagers who encouraged him to kill himself”
“[The student’s mother said] she found out about the bullying, some of which happened through messages over the Snapchat social-media platform”
Source: Denver Post
CBS reports that a ‘Joke’ on Snapchat results in the arrest of 15-year-old student
“‘This kind of a joke, which is not funny, can have tremendous implications for his education as well as legally,’ said Buckeye Police Department Public Information Officer Donna Rossi. ‘He is looking at possible misdemeanor charges. There are cases where this can be a felony.’”
“Police arrested the 15-year-old student for posting the threat [to Snapchat].”
In this video, Josh Ochs shows parents exactly how predators use Snapchat to locate minors and how to turn off these dangerous features
What is Snapchat?
- Snapchat is a popular photo, video, audio, and live messaging app
- The app is popular because of the private messaging feature that allows users to send private video, audio, or photos to one another
- Posts made on the app are called “Snaps”. Snaps can be sent to a user’s Story, to their friends in one-on-one chats, or to group chats
- Snapchat is known for its filters which create effects over photos or videos. The most popular filters change the user’s appearance
- The app is made up of these features: Snaps, Friends, Discover, Snap Map, and Streaks
Snaps: The home screen on Snapchat is a place where users can create content within the app and decide where it gets posted.
- Snapchat opens on the user’s camera so they can create Snaps in the moment (as opposed to using content from their camera roll)
- Snaps can be sent to a user’s Story (which will appear in the Discover tab), to their friends in one-on-one chats, or to group chats
- Text, doodles, stickers, filters, and links can be added to Snaps
- Snaps can also have a set time limit so they disappear after a certain amount of time
Snapchat Friends: Where users can chat with their friends one-on-one or in groups.
- From the home screen, users can swipe right to get to the Friends tab
- Users can chat one-on-one with friends or in group chats with up to 31 other users
- In the Friends tab, users can send: photos, videos, voice memos, Bitmojis (emojis that look like the user), content from their phone’s camera roll, or play games within Snapchat
- Content that is sent to friends can be set to disappear after a certain period of time or remain in the chat thread and they will receive a notification if their content has been screenshot by the receiver
- This tab is where users can see their Streaks
- Users can also make video or voice calls with their friends
Snapchat Streak: Posts that appear on a user’s profile and the Instagram home page for their followers.
- A Streak is given to users who have sent each other Snaps consistently for two days or more
- A fire emoji (🔥) will appear next to a friend’s name along with a number. This indicates that you are on a Streak and the number indicates how many days the Streak has been going
Snapchat Discover: A place for user’s to watch their friends stories or see posts from recommended media outlets.
- From the home screen, users can swipe left to get to the Discover tab
- When a user posts to their Story, their post will appear in the Discover feed for their friends to see
- Stories disappear after 24 hours – which encourages users to log in every day so they don’t miss content from their friends
- The Discover tab is also a place where users can see content from media outlets
- The content on the Discover tab is not moderated and this is where students commonly see posts from content creators that is too mature for younger audiences
- Users can subscribe to content creators they like so their posts will always appear on the Discover tab
Snap Map: Using geolocation services, users can see what other Snapchat users in the area are posting.
- From the home screen on Snapchat, users can swipe down to get to the Snap Map feature
- Users can post a Status on the Snap Map so other users can see what they’re doing and where they are
- At Smart Social, we believe it’s important for parents to know about the Snap Map feature because there are several reports of predators using this feature to target and find minors
- On Snap Map users can choose to show their content to anyone on Snapchat, only their friends, only selected friends, or they can go into “Ghost Mode” (this is our recommendation for every student) so that no one can see their posts on a map
- There are spots on the Snap Map that look like heat spots – those spots indicate where a lot of Snapchat activity is taking place. Users can tap on these spots to see posts from that area
Snapchat in the news:
Suspects use Snapchat to threaten teen girl at school to send pictures of herself. Police say the suspects contacted the 14-year-old victim on Snapchat implying they had photos of her and would release them if she didn’t send more.–NBC
Experts say that obsessively curating our social media profiles and using filters is changing our perception of ourselves. At its most extreme, this fixation on appearance can manifest in a mental health condition that’s being referred to as ‘Snapchat dysmorphia.’–USA Today
Police warn teens and parents about Snapchat location-sharing. Police worry that Snapchat’s playful, easy-to-use appeal to children and teens could lead to an abuse of the new Snap Map feature by those who want to hurt them.–Boston Globe
Why should parents care?
- The app is very popular with students – 54% of US teens report using Snapchat every day. 30% of users use the app because their parents do not
- There are several reports of predators using Snapchat (and the Snap Map feature) to target and solicit minors
- Teens and tweens tend to learn app updates faster than their parents which can lead to negative behavior because students feel that they can hide their behavior from their parents
- Due to its temporary nature, many teens might post riskier content on Snapchat than on other social networks
- Anyone with your child’s username can see their Snaps or send them direct messages
- Content in the Discover feed can be inappropriate for tweens and teens
What can parents do?
- Before giving your child access to an app, download it, spend some time using it, then determine if the app is safe for your family
- Always be on the apps your students use
- If your child is new to social media, create a cell phone and social media safety contract and have access to their usernames and passwords
- When your student has a solid understanding of their online footprint, then Snapchat can be used as a family in a fun and positive way
- If parents get involved and add their child on Snapchat, teens tend to keep their Snaps positive
- Have regular discussions with your children about Snapchat, know their usernames so you can monitor their activity, and encourage them to always talk to you if they experience anything uncomfortable online
- Remind your children that their online activity (even Snapchat posts that will disappear) can impact their reputation
- If your student is experiencing unusual behavior, consider contacting a school counselor or a private therapist. We suggest that every student who might be going through a hard time to work with a therapist
Watch our other Snapchat videos:
Icon & Emoji Guides
The Independent created icon and emoji guides to help users better understand app.
At Smart Social, we believe Snapchat can be fun for teens if they’re using it responsibly. But since there is such a dark side to this app, parents should stay vigilant and closely monitor exactly what their kids are doing on Snapchat to help keep them safe.