Snapchat is a quickly growing social media platform that allows people to send pictures or short videos, called snaps, to friends. The most popular feature is that these snaps only last a few seconds and then disappear. It’s great for people like me who insist their pets are the cutest but don’t want to inundate Facebook and Instagram with cat pictures for fear of being a bother. Instead, I just take a quick photo of my kittens, send it to a few interested friends — and then it’s gone.
However, the impermanence and fleeting nature of this program has bred new dangers. Predators are using this as a new hunting ground to find victims. The proverbial “stranger in a van with candy” can now reach children and gain their trust and personal information without ever leaving his or her house.
How can we keep our children safe in today’s technologically advanced world, which seems to emphasize anonymity and semi-permanence? How can we adequately explain the dangers and consequences?
This question really hit home for me recently when we discovered my 10-year-old niece was receiving Snapchat calls from a 30-year-old man. An addition to Snapchat allows someone to send a call, similar to Apple’s FaceTime function.
This problem has been seen in our neighborhood as well. A former Whitehall High School teacher recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of corruption of minors, and his tool was Snapchat. The general belief seems to be these snaps, however inappropriate, are harmless because they disappear in a few seconds.
The general purpose of Snapchat remains the same; however, improvements and updates have changed the face of the program. The option now exists to send a snap that will not disappear in 10 seconds, but rather will remain on the screen until the recipient makes it disappear. The possibility of taking screen shots of whatever is currently on your screen has been a standard option on phones for years. The company itself urges users not to send anything they wouldn’t want to be seen publicly for these reasons. Just because it is designed to “disappear” does not mean it will be gone.
There are numerous websites dedicated to finding people on Snapchat that will recommend random strangers for you to follow, and the program itself has a Quick Add function that selects random users and offers users the opportunity to follow them. Individuals have the option to exclude themselves from Quick Add for privacy reasons.
Snapchat also added a new map function in June 2017 for users to discover other users in the immediate vicinity — not just people you follow, but anyone who is using the program. Users can keep themselves in “ghost mode,” which hides their location, but users need to be sure to go into settings to select that option. Without the knowledge of this choice, a person’s location can be shared with everyone.
Now, there is even the option of sending money to someone over Snapchat, which opens the door to a whole new world of potential problems and dangers.
Today’s youths often don’t realize the dangers associated with online communications and think it’s cool and hip to have older friends their parents don’t know about. Children tend to have the belief they are invincible and nothing bad could ever happen to them. That’s why I fought my mother endlessly when she forced me to wear a bicycle helmet all those years ago.
The world has changed, but this belief hasn’t. Now, the dangers in this online world have surfaced, and we’re all scrambling to try and figure out how to protect children in this strange new frontier.