SnapChat has literally reshaped the teen experience since its release two years ago. The app, which allows a user to send a photo that “vanishes” in up to ten seconds, has spread like wildfire among teens. It didn’t take long for the app to become known as a “sexting” app since messages disappeared after being sent. As of late, a handful of anti-snap chat apps now allow recipients to save and store SnapChats like any other text message.
The impact of SnapChat to online safety continues to shift along with technology. Most recently, the introduction of the “Stories” feature to SnapChat adds another layer to a parent’s concerns.
“My Story” is a successive collage of snaps from the last 24 hours that a user can share with friends as part of his profile (here’s an example). As a user takes “snaps” to send to different friends he now has the option of archiving separate snaps into a story log by tapping the My Story button while sending a SnapChat. Basically, users can create mini “me movies” that give other people access to a more comprehensive picture of their day. App creators say the feature is a way to inject context into conversations and—with a user’s permission—give friends the “full story” of what they’ve been up to.
But can’t we do this already? Sure. You can get “context” by scrolling through a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed but this latest shortcut plays keenly to the preferences of the mobile teen culture—it’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s fun to share.
Which brings us to the pros and cons of the Stories feature of SnapChat.
The Stories feature could be:
• A stronger channel for harm. Yes, the Stories feature adds context to the hundreds of “snaps” shooting across the airwaves in any given hour. We’re all for clarity. However, if SnapChat is being abused and used for bullying or sexting (which has hit the news), then the Stories feature may only provide a more powerful channel for harm. So, pay attention parents. Ask your kids how they are interacting on SnapChat, ask to see some of the Stories they post, and ask to see the Stories their friends post.
• Another avenue for narcissism. The SnapChat Stories feature can be a potential tool for creativity and self-expression. That’s always a good thing for youth—in moderation. Stories will surely render some very creative “mini movies” as it catches on. On the flip side, we see Stories as one more avenue for increased narcissism. Giving kids one more place to “share” their story each day isn’t a healthy reality—especially when they spend more time taking SnapChats than actually living the moment. This will be an area parents will need to neutralize, especially if SnapChat is coupled with Instagram or Twitter. Again, talk to your kids about how often they post and the repercussions of overdoing it.
• Provide more content that will never disappear online. The Stories feature makes a SnapChat montage permanent for 24 hours. A user’s Story can be taken down by the user at any time but it can also be recorded with various apps by a recipient while it’s public. If that Story turns out to be a mistake, now instead of one SnapChat running loose online, there’s a 24-hour assemblage of ten second videos.
The Stories feature tells parents this: The app, now funneling 350 million snaps a day, isn’t going anywhere so learn the ins and outs of it. By expanding features (similar to Facebook’s Timeline) shows consumer demand and puts this new app in the realm of influence with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when it comes to online safety.
As we noted in our last SnapChat post, be sure to max privacy settings and check your teen’s friend list if you allow him to use SnapChat. Counsel your kids to “think before they snap” and never to share questionable content. Be aware of apps that capture SnapChats and make it a priority in your home to keep the conversation going around safety online.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).
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