Is Snapchat Safe for Kids?
Snapchat allows users to send video, photo, or text messages to each other that disappear soon after use. According to Statista, the platform has about 320 million daily users.
Snapchat’s features can pose dangers — such as vulnerability to predators, social media addiction, and exposure to inappropriate content — to children and teens.
For example, many pornography performers use Snapchat, according to the digital safety resource, Protect Young Eyes. Kira Lee Orsag and Valentina Marie are two such entertainers who have traded studio-produced adult content for releasing it on Snapchat.
In 2019, Kira Lee Orsag told the New York Post, “Premium social media was a major factor in my decision to no longer shoot with production companies. Now, I own my own content and can monetize it for myself and not for anyone else.”
The effects of social media are evident in a child’s interpersonal relationships, mental health, and overall well-being. Snapchat’s features are varied, and some are more detrimental than others.
Researchers from Istanbul, for instance, identified Snapstreaks as an addictive feature. And Snapchat’s games can interfere with other activities and priorities.
A significant feature of Snapchat is the opportunity for teens to chat directly with other users, as they might on Facebook Messenger. The feature is robust and allows users to play games together and send videos, photos, and money. The major difference between Snapchat’s chat feature and other platforms is that the chats disappear. However, this does not prevent people from taking screenshots or photos with another device of what they have been sent.
Snap Map allows users to share their exact location. While this is fun for friends, it also potentially allows strangers to know where users are. This can easily lead to a dangerous activity like cyberstalking.
Discover includes content to help teens keep up with pop culture. Content is of three types: Our Stories, Publisher Stories, and Snap Originals.
Users who are attending events submit writeups to Our Stories, and the Snapchat team curates them. Brands advertise using Publisher Stories. Snap Originals are professionally produced five-minute videos that users watch with their phones.
Snapchat’s algorithm is designed to screen what users can see to avoid exposing young people to sexually explicit content. However, savvy users can change their age to gain access to pornography and other adult content.
Spotlight allows users to post video content for 24 hours and assign it a topic hashtag. If the person posting is under 18, the posting is anonymous, assuming the child signed on with the correct birthday.
Users can post an in-depth story, including text, photos, and videos, that stays on the app for 24 hours. Users can make these stories public or share them only with friends. Making content public opens up the possibility that an inappropriate stranger will see it and could lead that user to experience cyberbullying from the people who see the content.
Snapstreaks encourages consistent chatting by giving a flame emoji for each day a user continues a conversation with the same friend. It also keeps track of the days the conversation streak has lasted. An article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health mentions Snapstreaks as potentially addictive.
Lenses and Filters
Lenses and filters add various special effects to photos. Lenses use augmented reality to change the background and scenery, or to add cartoon-like effects to someone’s face as they’re taking the picture or video. Filters can change how someone looks physically, such as making them look older or younger, change the color of their skin or hair, make it look like they’ve had plastic surgery, or even just make it look like they’re wearing makeup when they’re not. This can be particularly damaging to a user’s body image when they constantly see unrealistic images of themselves and others.
Users can choose from various games to play alone or with others and can challenge friends. Snapchat launches games within the app, which means they might appear at any time, without a reservation, and could interrupt a teen’s school day or family time. Users buy tokens to play certain games.
Users can add their photos to short video clips. While the images disappear quickly, anyone can take a screenshot of the photos, save them, and share them later.
Snapchat has a channel on its curated content section, Safety Snapshot. Safety Snapshot is a digital literacy program that provides tips to users regarding safety and privacy. The channel covers safety topics such as limiting friends to people your child knows, app tracking transparency, reporting, and live location sharing.
In addition to the above information, here is more information about what parents and teachers should know about Snapchat to stay informed.
How old do you have to be to get Snapchat?
Snapchat has an age minimum of 13. The minimum age is lower than Facebook, which requires users to be at least 16 years old. Certain features, such as sending money, require the user to be 18. Unfortunately, Snapchat does not verify ages, so teens can lie about their age on their profiles.
Common Sense Media recommends that teens be at least 16 years old to use Snapchat. It also recommends that parents talk with their teens about safety before letting them download the app. It suggests discussing with them how often you’ll check in with them about their use and how they feel about the app.
Are Snapchat users at risk for sexual predators?
Snapchat is the preferred app of sexual predators. Predators target children at random.
Susan McLean, a former member of law enforcement and cyber safety expert, told Australia’s The Examiner, “Good kids from good households who have involved parents can still be groomed online. If the predator starts a conversation, it is psychological grooming.
“The child may say something like I fought with my mum last night, and immediately that is an in.”
Snapchat is also a popular app for sextortion. Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to send a nude video or photo of the user to others unless they receive money or more sexual content. According to Cybertip, 77 percent of sextortion incidents occur on Snapchat or Instagram.
How can you keep your kids safe on Snapchat?
Snapchat should be a fun way to connect with other teens. Sometimes, however, Snapchat becomes problematic and even dangerous. Unlike some other apps, Snapchat provides no way for parents to see their teens’ daily activities.
Snapchat has three primary risk areas, so safety should be focused on managing these areas, according to Common Sense Media.
- Time Spent on the App
Broadband Search says the average user spends 31 minutes a day on Snapchat. Some features, such as Snapstreaks, encourage frequent checking and pressure teens to snap even if they don’t want to. If teens seem to stress about Snapchat rather than enjoy it, they may be spending too much time on the app.
2. The Myth of Disappearing Messages
The app used to have a reputation as a sexting app because people sent nude photos believing they would disappear. However, other users can save the content transmitted and share it anytime. Discussing this issue with your teen before they download the app can help increase their awareness.
3. Privacy and Safety
Adding friends is easy; because of this, many users may have people on their friends list that are actually not people they know. You must ensure the settings are correct to prevent strangers from contacting your teens. You can do that under the “Contact Me” and “View My Story” tabs.
The app also collects a lot of data on your child’s habits and shares some of that data with third parties. People can search for your child under their phone number unless you specifically change the settings under “Mobile Number” to disallow it. To prevent others from knowing where your child is, go to the “See My Location” setting and choose “Ghost Mode”.
Parents also should frequently check to ensure their child hasn’t changed their age in their profile. Changing the age is easy, and many teens do so to view porn on Snapchat.
What if Snapchat harms my child?
If Snapchat has harmed your child, then Snapchat should be held accountable. The Social Media Victims Law Center specializes in cases where social media platforms have caused an injury or illness in children. We are experts in social media and have filed several lawsuits against them.
Matthew P. Bergman