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When I was trying to convince my parents to let me get Snapchat a few years ago, I described it to them as “basically texting, but with pictures that go away in a few seconds”. Back in 2011, when the app was new, that was pretty much the gist of the app. Now, new updates have introduced Snap texting, Snap Stories, FindFriend that shows your location, and many other features that come with more potential risk. For parents and kids that want to get the app, and for those who have had it for a while, I will explain some “dangers” that come with the app, some general misconceptions or things many people just don’t know, and some tips to be safe while using Snapchat.

When going to purchase the app on the App Store, Snapchat describes itself by saying, “Life’s more fun when you live in the moment 🙂 Happy snapping!” which isn’t really a description at all. On commonsensemedia.org, it explains that Snapchat “lets you send texts, pictures, and videos that you program to disappear after a few seconds. Snapchat also offers fun, easy-to-use instant-editing tools that let you add cool effects to your “Snaps,” such as captions, drawings, and emojis.”

The concept is pure; it is meant for people to share moments as they happen without having to create a more “formal” post like on Instagram or Facebook, but, like with most things, it can be misused to share those things that you don’t want others (like your parents or future employers) to see. Most common are drug use, sexual acts, and illegal acts. The “safety net” that kids rely on to not be exposed are that the Snaps “disappear,” the pictures and videos as soon as they are seen and stories in 24 hours. However, there are many ways that people have found around this, such as: purchasing replays, screenshotting, the SnapSave app which allows you to view and save snapchats without the sender knowing, and most recently, screen recording that was introduced in the iOS 11 update for Apple iPhones and MirrorGo Android Recorder.

Many people forget that Snapchat is ultimately on the internet, and the adage that “once it’s on the internet, it’s out there forever” still applies. Most users aren’t highly educated on how the internet and its servers work, and they think that since the Snap is “deleted” that nobody can access it again, but actually “deleting” things off the net is a lot harder than people think. With the necessary knowledge, anyone could hack into the servers and gain access to anyone’s Snapchat conversations, pictures, videos, and stories. One example, according to the “Emerging Patterns and Trends Report: Youth-Produced Sexual Content” published by the Internet Watch Foundation, 89.9% of the total images and videos containing youth-produced sexual content assessed had been harvested from the original upload location (i.e. social websites and apps like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram) and were being redistributed on third party website (i.e. porn websites, Backpage, etc.)!

Now that you know, what should you do with this information?
Be smart! Be aware that once you put something out there it’s public information. Ask yourself before you post this: would I want my grandma to see this? My parents? My kids? My employer? Some simple things to do to reduce your risk: don’t Snapchat with strangers, be aware of who you are Snapchatting and be sure they are trustworthy enough to not take advantage of you. Better yet, don’t provide any type of content to anyone that could be used to take advantage of you. Also, turn your location settings off, ensure FindFriends is off so that your location isn’t shared with everyone, and keep your privacy services on so only your approved friends can send you Snaps and view your Stories.

– Contribution from Malone Young, Street Hope TN Intern, as part of our Internet Safety Tips Series