Back in November I heard from an 8th grade student who wanted to interview me about Snapchat for a research project she was writing for school. Her questions were probing, interesting, and excellent!
With her permission, and the permission of her parents, I am sharing that interview today.
J: Why was snapchat created?
Adam: In my post, Why You Should Delete Snapchat, I wrote this: The fact is that Snapchat was created as a sexting app. Like a do it yourself version of Girls Gone Wild. You might not use it that way, but that’s what it was created for.
J: Has anyone’s pictures ever been leaked on Snapchat? If so, how?
Adam: This has happened LOTS. While Snapchat is more secure and better engineered now, they suffered many leaks of account info in their early years. See this post, 200,000 more reasons to Delete Snapchat
J: Would you consider Snapchat safe? Why or Why not?
Adam: Safe is a relative term, right? So I’d wonder what you mean by “safe”? Is your data secure? Yes, it is more secure now than 3-4 years ago. Is it safe for a teenager to use? I suppose that’d be determined by what you were doing with the app, what you were posting, what was being sent to you, etc. I would argue that the vast majority of Snapchat usage at this time is normal social media usage for teenagers. But you also can’t lose sight of 2 facts.
- Snapchat’s early, explosive growth was fueled by it’s early sexting app history. Why did it take off? Because of sexting. How is it used now? In both safe and unsafe ways.
- While many of the concerns I’ve written about have been addressed by Snapchat, it’s important to remember that they didn’t do that by choice. The app is safer today for users because the United States government forced them to comply with laws. Read more about that here: http://adammclane.com/2015/07/29/can-i-use-snapchat-in-a-responsible-way/
J: What age group do you think was intended to use?
Adam: The original intent was college-aged people. (See Why You Should Delete Snapchat post) Currently, 70% of Snapchat’s user base is female. My original argument, based on the founders own words, was that Snapchat was created to sexually exploit college girls. While I’ve softened that argument it is clear that the primary users and target audience of Snapchat remain female. Just look at their marketing, it’s geared towards younger females.
J: Do you think Snapchat exposes kids to online predators?
Adam: I have engaged with law enforcement officers in many places in the United States across many agencies investigating cases of adults targeting underaged women with Snapchat. Up until the FTC ruling, Snapchat has [sic] no way for law enforcement to force Snapchat to share information that’d be useful for prosecuting sexual predators. They had a reputation for not responding, ignoring court orders, etc. However, after the 2014 FTC ruling, Snapchat is in compliance and provides a way for law enforcement to get the data they need to prosecute sexual predators using their app.
J: In your opinion is Snapchat much worse than other social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram
Adam: The ephemeral nature of Snapchat (that the images “disappear” or that things are temporary) does encourage less thoughtful, more whimsical usage. That’s not always bad. In fact, researcher Dana Boyd basically predicted something like Snapchat two years before it was created precisely because teenagers had no where online they could just be goofy without leaving a searchable history. (Like Twitter, Instagram, etc) My reminder to teenagers is that just because the image disappears doesn’t mean that the memory of what you’ve seen does. That’s not the way our brains work! Likewise, I’ve worked with many teenagers who have sent things with Snapchat they regretted. So while the image may only last for a few seconds, the impact of what you’ve sent lives on.
J: What do you think appeals to teens about Snapchat?
Adam: This is a really important question, one which I do my best to get parents to understand at my workshops! In her book, It’s Complicated, Dana Boyd says that teenagers need places to hang out with their peers. However, increased busyness, over-involvement, and over-regulating the freedoms of teenagers (See chapter 1 of Robert Epstein’s book Teen 2.0 for more on that… his research shows that adult prisoners have more personal freedoms than American teenagers!) creates the need among teenagers for adult-free spaces. This is what she calls “Networked Publics” which is a fancy way of saying “Online places to hang out.
J: What age do you think people must be to use Snapchat?
Adam: Actually, this isn’t about an opinion. In the United States the age is 13. A federal law called COPPA (Child Online Privacy Protection Act of 1993) prevents any online company from collecting personally identifiable information about anyone under the age of 13. I wrote about this here – http://adammclane.com/2014/
J: Do you believe that Snapchat collects information about its users?
- There’s no such thing as anonymity or privacy online, just the perception that your activity is private and/or anonymous.
- You aren’t the customer of a social media company, you are their product. You are freely giving them information which they turn around and sell to advertisers, marketers, and other agencies.
J: Can you think of any positive things about Snapchat?
Most users use Snapchat in a safe way. And certainly most users seem to enjoy using Snapchat. As I mentioned before, I think that Snapchat addresses a real need among teenagers… a place to just be a teenager without the prying eyes of adults. That’s a very good thing. I just wish that Snapchat were a better digital citizen. I think they are getting there, but it’s taking people willing to do the work to force them to be more responsible.