From Monica to Snapchat

Whipser, Secret, Yik Yak, Snapchat, Burnbook, et al. 

These are apps low on the “get it” list for adults. We look at them and wonder… “Why would I want that?” And it goes back to a fundamental difference between why teenagers use social media and why adults use social media.

  • Adults use social media to network. Public benefits that effort.
  • Teenagers use social media to hang out with friends. Public inhibits that effort.

Remember Monica?

We all remember Monica Lewinsky, the butt of every late night television and shock jock radio joke for a year. But, as she points out in the video below, along the way we forgot that she was a real person. No matter what she does in life she’ll always have an asterisk next to her name. 

Last week, Ms. Lewinsky had the opportunity to talk about the impact of her public shaming and offered some challenges for what needs to change in our society when it comes to public shaming people online.

Literally, she isn’t saying anything new. The reason she’s on that stage is because nothing is changing.

In 2007, I wrote a post about an emerging Economy of Hate gaining steam via ad revenue online. In January 2014, I wrote about Reaction Porn, revisiting this concept to talk about the actual economics at play.

Without the economy of hate and reaction porn you wouldn’t have things like TMZ or Buzzfeed, two entities who proclaim their worth as bastions of free speech when in fact they are merely the Larry Flint and Hugh Heffner of the shame business.

Let’s be clear: These aren’t bastions of free speech, they are purveyors of shame. They profit by dehumanizing. And your enjoyment of them, those minor indiscretions of keeping up with the latest gossip, aren’t all that different than looking at pornography. (Not sure if that’s true? Both sell dehumanizing, damaging, and false views of real life. One is about sex while the other is about gossip. Both are highly profitable forms of exploitation.)

Why Snapchat?

The “why” of ephemeral apps is simple.

What happened to Monica on a national stage happens on a small scale at middle schools, high schools, and colleges every single day.

Here’s how: A person makes a mistake… let’s say getting drunk at a party and throwing up. Someone takes a picture of it and it gets spread around the school.

Now, all of a sudden, the only thing anyone knows about that person is that they are the drunken girl who pukes. She’s a slut, whore, idiot. She’s not a human anymore. She’s a character in a narrative. Forget the fact that 25 other people were at that party… she just got labeled. (see The Scarlet Letter from 1850. This isn’t new. Heck, it’s in the Bible, right? How did things turn out for Bathsheba?)

But what is new is that social media moves fast and lasts forever. And most apps offer so little control of privacy, that teenagers actually need methods of privacy.

Literally, to see how ephemeral apps took off watch the video below from social scientist danah boyd, author of the groundbreaking work It’s Complicated, and take note of solutions teenagers were creating pre-2011 to this problem.

So why Snapchat (and Whipser, Secret, Yik Yak, Burnbook, et al.)?

The technology followed the actions of teenagers. They needed a way to say things anonymously or have things they did (from silly to mistakes) disappear… and so these things emerged.

This is exactly the utility (function) that Snapchat’s creators were describing as they created the app, as Picaboo messenger.


“I’m so glad social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager…”

I hear that line all the time. Teachers say it, parents say it, youth workers say it.

Why do we say it? Because we did stupid stuff when we were 16 and it isn’t following us today. 

But today’s teenagers do live in a world with social media and they are fully aware that stupid stuff they do, even if it’s exactly the same stuff their parents or grandparents did, will follow them.

So that’s why even the perception of privacy is often times enough.






One response to “From Monica to Snapchat”

  1. Ansel Taft Avatar

    I find it interesting that just like ‘slut’ or ‘whore’, ‘bully’ is a label too, levied at people who would label and judge others. The unfortunate part is it carries nowhere near the stigma of the first two or the labeling issue would clear itself up mighty quick.

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