Messages, images and videos that self-destruct almost immediately. No, it’s not something from the latest spy movie out at the cinema, but the mechanism behind the most popular social networks at the moment - at least among US teenagers.
We are talking about Snapchat, the app that lets you send messages and content that self-destruct in seconds and which is conquering teenagers all over the world.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is an app designed for mobile messaging which was launched in the US in 2011. It is unique within its genre. In fact it is distinguished from other social networks because it allows users to shoot and share photos and short movies that disappear almost immediately, automatically self destructing after being received and displayed by the recipient. The peculiarity of Snapchat is this: the short-term expiry, within a maximum of 10 seconds, of content produced and exchanged by users. Videos and photos can also be saved by the recipient, but they only remain visible for 24 hours.
Essentially, Snapchat is a cross between a social network and a chat app, halfway between Facebook and WhatsApp. But unlike Facebook and all other social networks, there are no histories, diaries, albums and profiles to customize. There is only one camera that allows users to take a picture or shoot a video and share it with other users.
Snapchat: what are the risks?
It all seems so simple, easy, without risks or problems. But if we stop to think a moment, some doubts arise. First, lets ask ourselves what are the aims of Snapchat. Without a doubt, fleetingness and ease. Suffice to say that as soon as the app is opened, a camera onscreen immediately invites users to take photos and videos, and share them with friends without much thought. In fact, to start using the app you need to take a picture or make a video. This is unlike other social networks – essentially its only thing the app does. Essentially, it forces the user to immediately jump into the fray without much thought about what they are doing and any possible consequences of sending inappropriate and illicit content.
At this point a second question arises. With this mechanism of self-destruction of content, what is it that really drives users? What stimuli does it produce or unconsciously feed? If the guiding principle of this social network is the extreme fleetingness and freedom of use, it may encourage impulsive and not well-considered behavior. Also, if you cannot store photos and videos, and everything disappears at the most within 24 hours, perhaps we can say that it stimulates a strong dependence, perhaps to review photos and videos we like before they disappear forever?
We’ll leave it to readers to answer this question. We have no intention to go against Snapchat, or demonize the technology and social networks. Our aim, as always, is to offer food for thought with a view to service and guidance.
One thing is certain. This gadget is becoming more and more enjoyed by the adolescents of today. Today, it touches the lives of 150 million active users. An incredible number, if we think that Twitter, one of the historic social networks and most popular in the world, reaches around 140 million users. It is not a coincidence that Facebook has tried recently to buy it, making the stratospheric offer of 3 billion dollars (flatly refused) to its founder, Evan Spiegel, just 23 years old.
Snapchat: 3 reasons why youth love it
So why teenagers like this social network so much, to the point of preferring it to Facebook or Instagram? We tested for you Snapchat, and propose 3 reasons:
- Adolescents are increasingly "mobile." Young people are increasingly mobile and use fewer and fewer fixed devices. For them, the desktop PC is like for adults’ typewriter: a distant and remote memory. Snapchat, unlike other social networks, started as a pure mobile phone application and does not have a real dual interface. Facebook, Twitter & company were designed to be enjoyed on desktops and only in recent years have, often with difficulty, gained a second life on your smartphone. This is because they were born more than ten years ago, when surfing the internet from a mobile phone was still a very expensive, slow and not very user-friendly experience. Snapchat, on the contrary, was born in the heart of mobile device development and exploits its full potential, connecting strongly with a generation that was born with a smartphone in hand.
- Adolescents don’t like photo albums. Teenagers do not like to store photos and videos. The smartphone rebooted the concept of digital albums for saving and reviewing photos. This is logical for adults, who tend to look deeply into the past and are thus inclined to preserve their memories with care and concern, as opposed to young people who are focused on the future. Teenagers therefore do not accumulate photos or love to create archives, preferring instead to be free to express their state of mind in the moment. Snapchat has sensed this profound generational difference, pandering to the emotional volatiability of teenagers.
- The allure of the forbidden. There’s no getting around or denying it. The fact that any snap has a short life and that it cannot be saved by the recipient, encourages teens to create sexually explicit take photos and videos. From this point of view Snapchat is a fertile breeding ground that is out of parental control, far more than any other traditional social networks, which feel in this respect that they need to protect themselves by being socially responsible and politically correct, for commercial and financial needs as well as those of image. All this feeds and makes it even more urgent and complicated the question of Sexting and Teenagers, a topic that Familyandmedia has written often.
For now, the inability to implement parental controls and filters on social networks used mainly by minors like Snapchat means great vigilance is needed. It is no coincidence that the theft by hackers - two years ago from the Snapchat database – of more than 200,000 images, many of which contained sexually explicit material involving teenagers, has raised serious pedophilia concerns in the United States and forced authorities to reflect on the need for serious policy to protect the privacy of minors.