We’ve talked extensively about the dangers of TikTok. But what if I told you that Snapchat was way more dangerous? That while TikTok’s influence is more subtle and psychological, Snapchat puts young people at immediate, sometimes life-threatening, risk.
On the 2nd of October, 2016, five men broke into Kim Kardashian West’s apartment in Paris and robbed her at gunpoint. The masked men made away with around 10 million dollars worth of jewelry. Luckily, Kim was left unharmed.
In an interview with VICE, Yunice Abbas, a member of the infamous “Grandpa robbers” gang, who allegedly robbed the reality star, said they used Snapchat to figure out everything they needed to know about the operation. Where she was, how much jewelry she had with her, and the fact that she was alone in her apartment at the time. Kim had posted a Snapchat story about how she was home, but everyone else was going out, informing the robbers of the perfect opportunity to strike.
Since that incident, other criminals have taken to Snapchat to find and rob people in a similar fashion. Now you might think you’re more careful, and that you don’t give away personal information on your Snapchat stories. But the reality is even little things like the address on a package you’re opening on screen, or the number plate of your car, can give criminals so much information about you.
This is a big problem on every social media platform, but the unique challenge with Snapchat, unlike the other apps, is that it sells you a false sense of security with its supposed privacy features. If you believe that everything you share on the app is temporary, you’re more likely to share things without giving them much thought. And this is what leads to many of the issues plaguing the app today.
To fully understand how Snapchat’s false sense of security negatively affects its users, we have to go back to the very beginning. Reggie Brown was allegedly talking about sexting with some friends when he came up with the idea of a social media app that allowed users to share pictures that disappeared after a few seconds, for obvious reasons. Brown would then share this idea with his friends Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, and the three of them came together to form Picaboo.
After some shady maneuvers to kick Brown out of the company, Spiegel and Murphy relaunched the app as Snapchat in July 2011. Making the case for Snapchat in the company’s first blog post, Spiegel said the following, “Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion — not just what appears to be pretty or perfect. Like when I think I’m good at imitating the face of a star-nosed mole, or if I want to show my friend the girl I have a crush on (it would be awkward if that got around), and when I’m away at college and miss my Mom…er…my friends.”
But in actuality, everyone knew what Snapchat was for, at least at the very core of it, and the company wasn’t hiding it. Have a look at Snapchat on a Wayback Machine, and you’ll see that the company used young, scantily dressed models to market the app. It was a subtle nod to the kinds of images that the company felt people would use the app for the most. And people did.
The ephemeral nature of the app meant that users could do whatever they wanted without fear that their digital footprint would someday come back to haunt them, but the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While Snapchat prevents people from taking screenshots or screen recordings of messages without informing the other party, people have found many easy ways to circumvent this for nefarious purposes. This has led to some horrific experiences for users who thought they were sharing media that would disappear, only to find it all over the internet weeks later, with no way of taking it down.
There are hundreds if not thousands of sites all over the internet dedicated to sharing revenge p*** that’s explicitly sourced from Snapchat. Messages, pictures and videos that the sender was convinced would disappear, plastered all over the internet.
“My life has just gone through a down spiral, I’m homeless because of this. I lost my family.” These were the words of a victim of revenge p*** in the trial of Kevin Bollaert, a man who ran one of the infamous sites where these Snaps were re-uploaded.
You might think that none of this is Snapchat’s fault. After all, adults need to be responsible for their own decisions and actions. And to an extent, you would be right. But the sad truth is that these issues do not only affect adults. According to Data Reportal, 20% of Snapchat’s users, around 123 million people, are between the ages of 13 and 17, all of whom are exposed to the same dangers of the disappearing text and the vulnerability that it presents.
The Times UK published an investigation into Snapchat that uncovered thousands of cases of pedophiles using the app to request inappropriate pictures from children and trying to groom young teenagers. Teenagers themselves were also found using the platform to share CP. The self-destructing nature of Snapchat’s messages makes it difficult to track the extent of the harm the app has caused and is still causing.
The situation has become so bad that, every day, police in the UK are investigating about three new child sexual exploitation cases facilitated on Snapchat. It’s for these reasons that the investigation labeled the app “a safe haven for child abuse,” which is honestly one of the worst reputations a social media platform could ever have. For an app that allows anyone 13 and above to have an account, Snapchat needs to put a lot more measures in place to safeguard its young users. Sadly, not much is being done to that effect.
And, as if those issues weren’t bad enough, in 2017, Snapchat released a feature called “Snap Map” that allows users to share their live location with friends on the app. On its own, this is already an alarming feature. It saves criminals the trouble of trying to decipher your location through your posts. All they have to do is make an account, add you as a friend, and once you accept, that’s it -they’ve got everything they need to cause terrible damage.
Let’s say you’re careful not to add people you don’t know in real life as friends, Snap Map still gives stalkers the perfect platform to find and follow their victims around. And if shows like “YOU” have taught us anything, it’s that stalkers are usually closer to you than you think and way more dangerous than you can imagine. Child molesters, human traffickers, groomers… think about the fact that all these dangerous people can find the location of young kids in just a few clicks. It’s mind-boggling when you consider just how risky it is.
So far, we’ve talked about the unique dangers of using Snapchat, but let’s not forget that the app also includes the same problems that most other social media apps suffer from.
Things like cyberbullying. The anonymity of the internet has created a safe space for cyberbullies, hate speech and just vile comments in general. The volatile nature of Snapchat messages makes that problem even worse. People can send the most horrid messages without fear because they know that once the person reads it, there’s no receipt. This gives the receiver a memory they cannot run away from, and the sender no repercussions for their actions because there’s no evidence.
Then there’s addiction. Figures from The Healthy Journal show that teenagers have an average daily screen time of 8 and a half hours. That’s more than an entire adult workday spent on social media. To be fair, most of that time is spent on TikTok thanks to its fast-paced content and impressively accurate algorithm, and on other social media platforms like Instagram and even YouTube. But Snapchat has a trick up its sleeve that keeps its users coming back for more. Streaks.
The record for the longest-running Snapstreak is currently held by Hannah and Lauren, best friends who have been sending each other a picture or video every single day since the feature was first released, April 6th, 2015. If, somehow, you don’t know what they are, Snapstreaks form when you and your friend send each other a picture or a video, within 24 hours, for more than 3 consecutive days. It’s represented by a fire emoji alongside the number of days you guys have Snapped each other. This creates a huge incentive for people to use the app at least once every 24 hours to keep their streak going.
Snapchat uses tricks like this all over the app, like the Friend Emojis, which adds little emojis to users’ display pictures to indicate the frequency of interaction between you and them. Like this one when you and a person have been each other’s best friend for two months in a row. This one when they’re one of your best friends. And this one when your Snapstreak is ending soon, so you can remember to send that Snap - and fast! Features like these create a fear of missing out in users’ hearts, which encourages them to stay on the app for as long as possible, even when it might not be healthy to do so.
There’s also the problem of perfectionism. Remember what Spiegel said in that first blog post about Snapchat? “It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion — not just what appears to be pretty or perfect.”
Perhaps this was the company’s original plan, but that quickly changed once they launched filters. Research has shown that people who use filters more frequently often experience increased feelings of dissatisfaction with their real selves.
Humans are social animals, and we’ve always lived and survived in groups. As a result, we’ve always compared ourselves to others. Back when we lived in small hunter-gatherer communities, it was fine. There weren’t very many people to compare yourself to, and the need to compare certainly wasn’t constantly in your face.
Sadly, with the rise of globalization and as things like television and magazines became more widespread, people started comparing themselves to their favorite celebrities, which in itself was already bad enough. But what happens when people start comparing themselves, not to other people, but to a digitally altered version of themselves?
Brighter skin, whiter teeth, more symmetrical features, accentuated cheekbones and jawline, Snapchat made all these available to users at the snap of a finger, pun intended. The result? A 2021 study carried out by University of London researchers on 175 women, and nonbinary people between the ages 18-30, found that around 94% of participants felt pressure to look a certain way, with over half of them saying the pressure was intense. All of this because of their use of filters.
We’re witnessing a generation of people who are no longer satisfied with how they look in real life, no thanks to how much better filters can make them look. Young people, now more than ever, are considering plastic surgery in order to look more like their filtered selves. It’s gotten so common that plastic surgeon Dr. Tiion Esho coined the term “Snapchat dysmorphia” to explain the phenomenon.
Although this video has been pretty critical of the platform, the truth is that Snapchat is not all terrible. In fact, more than anything, it’s a fun messaging app. It helps bridge the gap between Android and iPhone users by providing a universal messaging platform that both the green and blue sides of the world can use.
It’s also a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, especially for people who don’t see each other often. With Snaps, you can easily share bits about your day without overthinking it because you know the pictures aren’t going to live forever.
Snapchat is actually the closest digital messaging platform we have to real world communication. Our interactions with each other and the world around us are fleeting. We remember the most important conversations, but most of our everyday interactions just fade away like a Snap after 24 hours.
Even features like Snap Map allow close friends and family to check up on the whereabouts of one another without any effort. In the case of an emergency, it can be lifesaving by giving the authorities immediate access to the location of the victim.
What people need to remember, though, is that Snapchat is not impervious to the problems that affect every other social media platform or even the internet itself. Just like you would on any other platform, be conscious of what you share on Snap and understand that nothing is ever a complete secret.
Before you hit that send button, keep in mind that there’s a possibility whatever you send will get out one day. As a result, you need to be careful with what you share and, more importantly, who you share it with. Don’t get bitten by the false sense of impermanence that the app gives.