App Fail: Snapchat Seems Designed for Teen Sexting

App Fail: Snapchat Seems Designed for Teen Sexting

By: Shelly Kramer
November 29, 2012

Snapchat app failWe love the excitement and promise of a new app—that is, until we discovered Snapchat, an iOS and Android app that’s not only geared toward teens, but also appears to encourage sexting. Seriously?

Here’s the deal. Snapchat allows for real-time picture chatting. In the company’s words, “Snapchat is a new way to share photos with friends and family. We’re making ‘social media’ fun again. And we’re totally mobile.”

Sounds all well and good, right? Yet Snapchat also uses time-sensitive technology so users can choose how long they want a Snapchat to last before it self-destructs. And that, as Buzzfeed’s Katie Heaney points out, seems “specifically for sending the kind of pictures users wouldn’t want recipients to hang onto permanently.”

In our collective opinion, this stinks. And personally, as someone who has managed to successfully steer two girls through the teenage years and who is now working on raising another “crop” of girls, it stinks to the umpteenth power. Sexting is a BIG problem with kids today. Study results published in June from the University of Utah indicate that nearly 20% of participants (18% males, 17% females) have sent a sexually explicit image via their cellphones—and nearly twice as many report having received such a picture.

Teens (and tweens) are incapable of understanding the enormity of the power of technology and the risk–the fact that one image, shared with a trusted “friend” could potentially haunt them forever. Look no further than the tragic story of Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen whose story of online bullying (that included a naked photo that she was forced into sharing) ultimately lead to her suicide. Amanda’s memorial Facebook page now has 349,000 likes and is a real force in the movement to raise awareness about bullying and to provide support to kids and people who need help.

What does bullying have to do with Snapchat? When teens do stupid things—like share risqué photos of themselves—that opens them up to ridicule and bullying. And a consequence of bullying for all too many kids is considering suicide as a solution. That, to us, is untenable. And an app like Snapshot enables sexting behavior, and ultimately, to our way of thinking, puts people—especially kids—at risk.

Snapshot CEO Evan Spiegel laughs off the connections to sexting, which, coincidentally, have also been reported by The New York Times. Instead, in an interview with TechCrunch, Spiegel says “I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be. I just don’t know people who do that. It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex.”

Well, gee, Evan—isn’t that the problem? That teenagers could have more ways with which to send risqué photos of themselves, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll have sex? And you may not know people “who do that”—but how many teens do you know? Do you even have children of your own? Because honestly, we’re a little frightened by smartphones and sites like Facebook that make harmful activities like sexting and bullying much easier—and, to our way of thinking, more damaging.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can build a wall around our children and prevent them from using digital devices and the Internet (although we sometimes wish it could be that easy!). Instead, the best we can do is keep a (reasonable) eye on what our children are doing and teach them the power and responsibility that comes with owning a cell phone and being active online.

Oh, and in the meantime? We hope Evan gets a bigger clue. He told Buzzfeed that the team “is trying to do a better job educating our users and their parents” and that they hope to make more materials available on the app’s website soon. We won’t hold our breath.

What’s your take on Snapchat? Harmless photo-chatting app or a tool that’s more malicious than meets the eye? And for all the parents out there, we’d love to hear how you educate your children about using smartphones, apps and social networking sites.

We would apologize for the rant here but you know what? We’re not the least bit sorry. We care about kids. A lot. And crappy apps like this (and the people who create them) need to be called out. What do you think? Are we overreacting? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image by amboo who? via Creative Commons

  • Brent

    Is there really anything wrong with using snapchat for the reasons you outlined if you are an adult? I’m not arguing they should have to, but let’s say that snapchat could verify its user’s age – say 18+, before sending photos, would you still have a problem with it being used to send risque photos?

    You outlined the case of teen’s being bullied for sending risque photos – doesn’t the “self-detonation” feature of images on snapchat work against that very scenario happening?

    I respect your opinion because we all want the best for our children, but just because you have teenage girls doesn’t entitle you a position that puts those in other social situations at blame.

  • ShellyKramer

    Hey Brent,

    We’re all entitled to our opinions. Personally I can’t imagine it does anyone any good to text nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, in spite of a “promise” by a technology platform that they self-destruct in a matter of time. It seems to me to be more dangerous than anything and that’s great if that’s your gig. It’s just not mine.

    With child (and female) sex trafficking a huge problem, denigration of women by media at every turn, and little girls growing up thinking “sexy” is cool, I’ll never be a fan of something that potentially endangers females who lack maturity or judgment to make decisions about using an app like this.

    And the cool thing about the society in which we live–there’s no right or wrong. Only what’s right for you. If something like SnapChat does it for you, go for it.

  • Shelly,

    This is a brilliant post by a thinking mother who understands the ramifications technology can have on teens.

    Personally, I agree that we need to think carefully about the motivation for marketing a self-destructing picture chat app to teens. Too many companies are quick to exploit our kids’ immaturity in search of a quick buck. Unfortunately, such tools are usually in our kids hands years before we parents even know about them.

    Thanks so much pointing this one out. Let’s hope this info spreads and at the very least, they stop marketing this to teenagers.

  • Hmmm. I tend to be pretty agnostic when it comes to any app or technology being explicitly good or bad, but this one stinks. Like, whoa. Even consenting adults should be able to see that sharing risque photos like this can (and, often, will) have disastrous results.

    The sexting thing is particularly troublesome. Locally, a group of teens were involved in a ‘sexting’ incident and, thanks to some heavy-handed judicial decision, now have been labeled as sex offenders before a single one of them turned 18. And? That sucks.

    As comfortable as many young people (read: teens and tweens) are expressing themselves online, they’re often dangerously ignorant about the consequences of their behavior. We still have a lot of teaching to do.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Jenise. Love hearing your thoughts here. There’s just so much about this app that seems dangerous and wrong.

  • ShellyKramer

    I didn’t even think about the whole sex offender thing — and once something like that happens it follows you the rest of your life. I was really interested in a guy’s viewpoint here, Jason, so I appreciate you coming by. I’m a mom and really passionate about empowering women and all that stuff … so I hoped I wasn’t look at this in a skewed fashion. Really appreciate your sharing your POV.

  • MrTonyDowling

    I’ve got to agree with you here Shelly. Im a Dad to boys not girls, but I want them growing up in a world that respects itself and each other.
    Bullying is a huge problem and one of my little ones having SEN means he is particularly susceptible to it.
    I’m a liberal person I think? Into tolerance and freedom of expression etc. But this, and this type of thing needs a zero tolerance approach.
    The adultisation and especially sexualisation of our children greatly concerns me – as it pertains to both boys and girls, and something like this that is so blatantly open to ‘abuse’ needs to be shut down.
    Even if that means we as parents just shut our kids down and prevent them from using this stuff in the first place.
    Oh and teach them why its so damaging in the second place!
    I don’t like preachy people (or blogs) but you are bang on this time 🙂
    thanks for continuing to take a stand

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Tony. I don’t often call out something as terrible, but this app just really concerns me. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts. As Jason pointed out earlier, even boys can get themselves into trouble with this kind of thing and how horrible it would be to be labeled as a sex offender – or worse – as the result of dumb teenage experimentation. Really appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  • Shelly, I’m fascinated by this vague landing page the company has put up. Basically it doesn’t explain what it does. Yet the little icon speaks volume: a pervy ghost. This telegraphs things that disappear (the images) but the sentiment that doesn’t (the titillation). Just like the panel we ran together (10 Ways Moms Can Change Media), you are demonstrating how one mom (and savvy business woman to boot) who is paying attention can call BS on companies trying to sneak under the radar. Eager to see what happens next…

  • @Hugeheadca

    Denying that sexting is an issue…this Snapchat CEO sounds very much like other CEO’s in the past who have produced products which have which have apparent dangers. How many other products aimed at exploiting kids in the past have spewed this same line? How tragic that we never run out of people such as this who’s morals and sense of social responsibility are defined by profit margins.


  • patrickdh

    Over protective? As a consenting parent I’m definitely curbing even gaming apps usage – as @twitter-16663709:disqus we can’t have the radar sharply tuned enough. Although unexpected, that eagerness is there from the snapchats to the Disney’s.

  • Shelly, what this app does is create the unreasonable expectation that you can send a sensitive photo and be “protected.” The fact that it has “time sensitive” technology means nothing. Anyone with even a little bit of knowledge knows how to screen capture a photo. It encourages the sending by setting up a false expectation of privacy and security. In this sense it preys on the young and naive.

  • As long as they can make an interesting app, people are going to use it especially if it caters to desires of simplicity. Face it, our civilization is based on personal ego first, social good always gets a back seat. I feel that the Internet is being purposely polluted with ego over social good for a reason: to make profit, making shared knowledge an expense in terms of time it take to surf, while garbage entertains no such liability and draws the biggest crowds…

  • ShellyKramer

    Sadly you might have a point.

  • ShellyKramer

    EXACTLY! Which is why I don’t like it. (sigh)

  • SophieLhoste

    Not overreacting IMO. Thank you for writing this and for letting me of the existence of this app. I care about kids too.

  • ShellyKramer

    Love you, Sophie!

  • i agree. The article raises many good points.

  • Good Article Shelly. Let’s also not forget that many adults also “understanding the enormity of the power of technology and the risk–the fact that one image”. Politicians especially seem to be the most prone to these type of errors in judgement 🙂

  • ShellyKramer

    Oh so very true!!!

  • ShellyKramer

    He does sound like he doesn’t care much, now doesn’t he?

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Kat … somehow this response got lost in my inbox. I’m so encouraged by this because now moms (and dads) are starting to talk about this …. and who knows how many kids might be protected as a result. Love it. Thanks for your support on this.

  • Concerned in Gardner

    I appreciate the heads up! I’ll be governing my son’s phone a little more closely.

  • ShellyKramer

    Good call!

  • zoetropicdream

    I don’t have kids. Perhaps that makes what I’m about to say less credible, but bullying has been around for ages and whether you are three or 33, you are going to deal with people who can’t just lest you have your growing pains.
    It doesn’t mean I think this app is a good idea. We just need to teach our kids to look a little more objectively and think about the consequeces.

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