Warning to teens over Snapchat app’s bullying potential

As the popularity of the controversial website ask.fm fades, another site is gaining currency with teenagers, leading to social media experts warning parents to talk to their children about Snapchat.

Snapchat is an app that allows users to ‘snap’ a picture or a video and add a caption. They can then send the picture and it can be viewed by the recipient for three to 10 seconds before it self-deletes or ‘self-destructs’.

Snapchat’s developers say: “The allure of fleeting messages reminds us about the beauty of friendship — we don’t need a reason to stay in touch.”

However, forensic psychologist Maureen Griffin warns that users need to control their settings so they only receive pictures from trusted friends and not the hundreds of Facebook and Twitter friends and followers they may have amassed over the years.

A growing number of Irish youths use Snapchat to send bullying and inappropriate images and videos, believing that, as the incriminating image will disappear, there will not be an identification trail, says Dr Griffin.

At the other end of the interaction, says Rita Reilly, CEO of Parentline, young people are being cyberbullied by recipients who take screenshots of embarrassing snaps, such as ‘sexts’, and forward them on to others.

Snapchat developers tried to overcome this problem by installing alerts that can tell the sender that their message had been screengrabbed, but an array of apps have been developed to secretly take screenshots.

Potentially even more embarrassing is the number of websites that have popped up to which recipients can forward embarrassing snapchats, many of them semi-naked and naked images.

Snapchat can be used on phones, iPad, iTouch, and Android tablets.

“Snapchat is a major concern around its bullying potential,” says Dr Griffin. “There is a need for people to control their settings so only trusted friends can send messages and users need to realise that there is nothing private about this app.” She also warned the images are held on to by Snapchat servers.

“There is a great need for parents to talk to children about what pictures they are sending and who they are sending them to,” said Dr Griffin.

Snapchat is two years old but has already been valued at $4bn (€3bn). It claims to have more than 100m users exchanging around 350m self-destructing snaps each day, and a recent study from the Pew Research Centre reported that 9% of US smartphone owners use it. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, this rises to 26%.


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