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Snapchat

Snapchat is a free messaging app that allows users to exchange pictures and videos called snaps. The idea is that these images can appear temporarily before disappearing, though they can be captured via screenshots. Snapchat allows users to edit their pictures and videos through the use of filters, lenses, emojis, text or other effects, which they can then share with friends. Users can choose how long their snaps stay up on the app from one second to no time limit. Recipients of the snaps can also have the ability to replay a snap they receive.

Official age rating

The minimum age restriction for Snapchat users is 13, however, Snapchat does not have any rigorous age verification methods.

All accounts default to a ‘Friends’ setting, where content can only be viewed by friends you’ve added on the platform. Double check the account settings reflect this.

Find out more about age ratings in our A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games.

How children and young people use the app

Snapchat is an extremely popular app for children and young people. The different ways users can edit pictures and the key feature of making messages temporary give the app a fun and playful feel. Users can give the ‘Snaps’ they send directly to their contacts or in group chats a time limit of between 1-10 seconds or with no limit at all. Each snap shared with your followers as a ‘Story’ is also temporary and is available for 24 hours, unless you delete it. The app also has a multitude of other features including bitmojis, games, subscriptions where users can follow the content of influencers, and a discovery page with various types of news and curated content to scroll through. A big incentive for the continuous use of the app is the ‘Snapstreak’ feature where a number is presented next to a user’s name to signify the number of days in a row that they have been messaging. This is sometimes seen as a reflection of their friendship and if the users forget to message for a day, the number goes back down to zero which can be upsetting and provides further incentive to use the app daily.

Potential risks

Content

As with other apps that encourage users to share their personal stories and pictures, a lot of content is shared on Snapchat that is not moderated. Due to the ways that the algorithms work on platforms like Snapchat, videos will be shared because they are popular and have high engagement rather than because they are necessarily safe or appropriate for your child. It is also possible your child may stumble across inappropriate content in the form of bad language or mature content in their messages. By restricting who your child can access on the platform, your child is less likely to experience language or behaviour that is not suitable for their age.

Connecting with others

Snapchat is a highly social app encouraging interaction and engagement that is lively and fun.  There have been cases of children and young people being contacted, solicited and harassed through this app. This app is likely targeted because it is so widely popular with children and young people but also because the disappearing messages feature may be attractive to those who are seeking to harm children. It is important that children and young people know how to limit their contacts in settings to those who are known friends. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information on their profile or within chats. Encourage them to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately using a different app. Changing the privacy settings to sharing only with friends is recommended

User behaviour

In common with other popular social apps, Snapchat has a range of features which allow users to share content in a range of ways. Have a conversation with your child to help them understand what is and is not appropriate for them to share online and the lasting impact that anything they post may have on themselves and their future. The ‘Disappearing message’ feature that Snapchat is known for can also give children a false sense of security about sharing.  It is important to explain to children that all content can be screenshotted, saved and widely shared.  If a ‘Story’ or a ‘Snap’ is screenshotted, the user who made or sent the post is alerted but this does not prevent the other user from being able to save the image. Users must therefore really think about the content they share and consider whether they would be happy for everyone they know to see it.

Design, data and costs

As with many other apps, Snapchat collects significant data from children and does serve adverts and influencer content. It can be compulsive for children, particularly concerning the ‘popularity contest’ feature of the app known as ‘Snapstreaks’. This feature allows children to share and demonstrate the strengths of their friendships with each other based on how often they communicate via the app. It is important to talk to children about real friendships and how ‘Snapstreaks’ are simply designed to keep users on the platform, rather than to gauge the quality of a friendship.


Tips for keeping your child safe

  • Whilst there isn’t a simple public or private option within Snapchat, users can still use the settings to determine who can view any content they share.

    To manage who can view your stories:

    • Select your profile and then choose the settings menu and scroll down to ‘View my story’.
    • Select ‘My friends’ from the options given.
  • Users can navigate through the settings menu to help manage who can contact them and the information they choose to share with others.

    To manage who can contact you:

    • Select your profile and then choose the settings menu and scroll down to ‘Who Can’
    • Select ‘Contact me’ from the options given and choose ‘My friends’.
    • Go back to the ‘Who can’ menu and select ‘See me in quick add’.
    • Toggle this to off. This will prevent your friends from being suggested to other users.

    To disable location sharing:

    • Select your profile and then choose the settings menu and scroll down to ‘Who can’.
    • Select ‘See my location’ from the options given and choose ‘Only me’.
    • Note: when ‘Ghost mode’ is enabled, your friends can’t see your location.
  • You can report and block users who may be bothering you or behaving inappropriately on the platform.

    To report a user:

    • Select the user you wish to report from the ‘Chat’ list.
    • Tap and hold down their name and select the ‘More’ option.
    • Tap ‘Report’ and choose your reason from the listed options.

    To block a user:

    • Select your profile and then choose ‘My friends’.
    • Tap and hold down their name and click on the ‘Block’ option.

    To report content:

    • Select your profile and then choose the settings menu and scroll down to ‘I need help’.
    • Tap ‘Safety’ and then choose from the options listed.
  • There are lots of prompts and invitations on Snapchat, including friend suggestions and prompts about unopened snaps or mentions. You can manage the notifications in the settings menu.

    To manage notifications:

    • Select your profile and then choose the settings menu.
    • Tap ‘Notifications’ and choose which features you would like to be notified about.
    • Note: there is an extensive list of notifications available, so ensure you child has only selected a few, if any, from this list.

Key features and terminology

  • Snap

    A ‘Snap’ is a picture or video you send through the app to one or more of your friends. Users have the option to add a time limit of 1 to 10 seconds on images they share, and a video snap can last up to 60 seconds in a series of 6, 10 seconds clips. Once the snap has been viewed by its recipient it is deleted unless you add it to your ‘Story’, in which case they disappear after 24 hours.

    Stories

    A ‘Story’ is a collection of snaps that play in the order they were taken. You and your friends' stories are displayed to show the last 24 hours, so you can view the series of messages you sent between each other.

    Discovery

    This feature is a newsfeed featuring content from news outlets.

    Snap Games

    This is Snapchat’s gaming feature where you can game with friends and chat with them through the app.

    Snapstreak

    This shows an extended session of snaps between friends for three consecutive days.  The app will show the number of days the streak has been going for.

    Filter

    A Snapchat filter or special effect that you add to picture or snaps. There are also Snapchat lenses that allow you to add animations and special effects while you are taking a snap.

    Ghost Mode

    Snapchat allows location sharing between users via ‘Snap map’. You can use ‘Ghost mode’ to avoid sharing their own location with others.

    Spotlight

    A tool to promote viral videos from public profiles.

    Calls and video calls

    Users can call or video call their friends using Snapchat.

    Subscriptions

    Subscriptions on Snapchat allow you to stay updated on content from your favourite accounts and creators.

    Bitmoji

    Users can create and personalise their own avatar which can be used on their profile and Snapmaps.

    Memories

    Users can save snaps that they take to their memories.

General tips

Snapchat offers a ‘Here for you’ service which is a mental health support portal for users.