SnapChat is an app which continues to grow in popularity, especially with young people. The app allows users to share photos, videos and messages instantly, and they’re deleted seconds later.

The premise of images ‘disappearing’ after views bestows users with a false sense of security. Many believe the app is safer than other social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram. However, there are cases in the news that suggest SnapChat may pose a danger to young people.

Rising popularity amongst young people

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

‘Selfie’ culture encourages the use of such apps. The fact they also provide a great way to share moments with friends and family, far and wide, makes them more popular. SnapChat continues to roll out features, including saving pictures and videos and re-playing them – making them even more appealing.

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 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 young people and some people use the app for ‘sexting’ and sending explicit images of themselves. The pictures and messages can be saved, without the original user’s knowledge, through smart print-screening and alternative apps. Then stored, copied and distributed via messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, across networks of people.

Campaigners call 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 receiving the images. Prevention it seems is more effective than cure.

Protecting yourself online

There are countless cases online where information is leaked, severely damaging people’s online reputations. 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 on someone’s personal life and professional career can be devastating.

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

  • Don’t take risks: Even if you set your photo availability for one second, that’s long enough for someone to save and share it. 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. Be careful with what you share and with whom. Stay in control.
  • 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 smartphones 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 and online activity. It doesn’t matter if someone is under 18, they still need to 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.

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