By: Molly Daniels, Guest Blogger
Forget Facebook and Twitter, the new social media tool of choice is Snapchat. The messaging platform boasted 26 million U.S. users at the end of 2013, according to Pew Research. With this mobile app, users can send photos and videos to their friends. These messages promptly disappear after one viewing, which, in the minds of teenage viewers, allows for greater security.
Unfortunately, these photos don't actually disappear. For the careless young user, Snapchat truly can pose a significant threat. Parents need not ban the app for good, but they should be aware of the many potential security hazards related to using the photo messaging program.
How and why teens use Snapchat
Despite allegations from worried parents, most teenagers do not use Snapchat as a tool for sexting. Rather, adolescent users view Snapchat as an easy means of carrying on private conversations with their friends. Inside jokes, silly photos, and goofy videos are prominent on Snapchat as such content may prove less relatable for larger audiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Snapchat also reduces the pressure for feedback in terms of "likes" and comments. When sending pictures and videos, teens need not worry about whether their "like count" will indicate their level of popularity. Teens also enjoy the functionality of the program, which shows off images with exceptional clarity on the newest iPhone and Android devices.
Snapchat's new security features
Addressing the concerns of parents, Snapchat's tech experts have implemented new features aimed at making the app more secure. A Snapchat blog post in early 2014 informed users of security updates, including the requirement of phone verification prior to using the app's popular "Find Friends" feature. A second update involved the required identification of "ghost images" to prevent hackers from getting a hold of phone numbers. Unfortunately, as the Washington Post reported, a hacker was able to break through this security feature in just half an hour. Thus, even with Snapchat's greater emphasis on security, it's important for teenagers to use discretion when deciding which images and videos to share.
Encouraging safe use of social media
Many teens love Snapchat simply because they believe it gets their parents off their backs since it is more private than most social networks. Therefore, your best solution to Snapchat qualms may involve a less overbearing approach when it comes to monitoring Facebook and Instagram. Yes, posts on these sites remain accessible to vast audiences, but with users retaining better control over their posts. Forbes notes that it's far easier to delete a problematic post before it's misused by ill-advised friends and acquaintances.
While remaining friends with your teen on Facebook proves the easiest way to prevent irresponsible posts, you should avoid the temptation to constantly comment on your child's social media activity. This will only serve to drive him or her to the seemingly more private Snapchat. If your teen does insist on using the app, highlight the potential dangers of sending photos or videos with sexual or drug-related content, reminding him or her that the app is not as private as it may seem.
Molly Daniels writes about Internet safety and cybersecurity from her home in the Great Lakes region.