Bully4u said in its most recent survey of 1,020 children aged between 13 and 15; 80% of 13-year-olds and 90% of 15-year-olds were using the smartphone app.
The rapid uptake of users has pushed the way the app works into the spotlight, particularly in light of some legal cases in other countries where young people have been investigated for alleged distribution of child pornography.
Users can take photos or videos and send them to a controlled list of recipients, while setting a time limit for how long the recipients can view their “Snaps”, from one second to 10 seconds.
Then the image is hidden and deleted from the server. However, recipients can preserve it by taking a screen grab of it on their device.
The director of Bully4u, Jim Harding, said: “We are aware that Snapchat is being used for both cyber-bullying and sexting.
“Sexting is a highly dangerous practice, and illegal where children are concerned as it constitutes the manufacture and distribution of child pornography.
“Snapchat gives the illusion that the image will dissolve after a certain time limit, whereas in reality recipients can take a ‘screen shot’ or use other apps to save the image. Sexting and cyber bullying using ‘photo messaging’ apps is not receiving the focus or attention that it needs.”
He cited one case from last November in Quebec, in which 10 boys aged 13 to 15 were arrested on child pornography charges, after they allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screen shots.
He said there had been another case in Canada in which a 17-year-old girl was found guilty in January this year of distributing child pornography for “sexting” pictures of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.
One student told Bully4u they were sent an image of a knife in a bullying case.
“They should be more aware but they need more education about it because they operate in their own world, a digital playground as such,” Mr Harding said.
“They don’t realise they are leaving a digital footprint. It’s a two-pronged approach — [informing] the parents and, more importantly, it is communicating with the children and letting them know.”