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.
What You’ll Learn
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.”
What Is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a popular app that allows users to create and send “snaps” messages that use multiple media options, including photos and videos. Users can edit that content to include text, drawings, and filters. Young users enjoy features that quickly delete snap messages after posting. Group messages, for example, disappear one day after everyone in the group has viewed them.
In addition to sending private messages, Snapchat users can post public content or content known as “Stories” that can only be seen by their followers.
How Does Snapchat Work?
Users open the app and use the camera to take a video or photo. Then, they choose whether to post it to their personal Story or send it as a message. Snaps can be sent as individual or group messages to people in the user’s contact list.
Snapchat’s defining feature is that content disappears shortly after it has been created, usually within 24 hours. Content sent to a friend is deleted once the friend views and navigates away from the message. Users can, however, choose to save snaps from their dashboards.
A snap posted as a Story also disappears 24 hours after posting. However, some options, such as Group Chats, may remain available for up to a week if not all group members have viewed the content.
Kids and teens enjoy the relative feeling of privacy provided by the app’s regular deletion of content because parents and authority figures have a lower chance of seeing it. However, users can save photos and videos posted by other users and circulate them, meaning that users don’t have ultimate control over their content.
Adding friends is a key part of Snapchat. Users can import their address books or search by usernames as they talk to their real-life friends and acquaintances. They can also add users by using scannable QR codes. In addition, users can add friends through the platform’s suggestions based on mutual friends and connections. Kids and teens using the platform can end up adding people they don’t know if they regularly connect with friends of friends.
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.
Snapchat also offers a live chat option. Like other video call platforms, it allows users to connect directly with people they friended on the platform. That means that kids and teens can connect with users they have not met in person. Users can take screenshots during the video chat. Users can also add filters to their video calls, meaning other users could obscure their appearance or age.
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.
Face Lenses and World Lenses
Lenses allow users to interact with the world around them through the app. Face lenses allow users to change the appearance of their face, neck, and shoulders, including “trying on” advertised products such as jewelry, clothing, and makeup. On the other hand, world lenses allow users to interact with the world around them, placing 3D objects from the virtual space into an image of the real world around the user.
Most social media platforms display memories based on content users have shared over the years. Facebook, for example, acts as a depository of memories for users who want to look back on what they posted in the past. Snapchat, however, deletes that content as soon as users post it. Snapchat’s Memories feature stores snaps that users want to keep. Users manually save content they have created or that other users have sent them, then use the Memories section to view it later.
Geofilters are added visual effects available only within a certain geographic range. For example, many companies choose to use specific frames related to their business. The filter shows the exact location where people posted a specific snap, making it easier for people to track users who post that content. While many businesses use Geofilters, users can also add them to content at parks, in specific neighborhoods and cities, and more.
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.
What Is Snapchat AI?
Snapchat AI is a chatbot accessed through the Snapchat platform. Like other chatbots and virtual assistants, Snapchat AI can provide answers to basic questions. Users can ask it trivia questions or share further information. Users are encouraged not to provide private information, including location details, to the AI. However, the AI stores any information it receives for future retrieval.
What Are the Concerns Over Snapchat's AI?
Snapchat’s AI has raised a series of concerns for parents and users.
1. Privacy Concerns
Many parents are concerned by the lack of privacy with Snapchat’s AI. Snapchat presents the AI as a “new friend” that users can interact with whenever they want to connect. Unfortunately, that means kids and teens may share too much information with the bot, such as details about their locations, friends, or schools. The AI does save the information shared with it. While users can choose to delete snaps, they may not realize that the AI saves content much longer than Snapchat’s standard 24 hours.
2. Addiction Worries
The new AI feature gives kids and teens another reason to use their phones, interacting with the virtual platform instead of the real world. With social media addiction posing a serious problem for teens, adding another feature that circumvents peer interaction is particularly problematic for many parents.
3. Inaccurate Information
AI sounds incredibly realistic and trustworthy. It uses a natural conversational style that mimics the way teens communicate with each other. It cannot, however, reliably provide accurate information. AI pulls information together based on what it can access online. It may make up facts, particularly statistics, or provide biased information. Teens unaware of this quirk of AI may put too much trust in what it shares.
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