Snapchat: Privacy as perishable as the photos

Users of the popular, fairly new Snapchat app tend to like it because a photo vanishes within 10 seconds or less of being viewed by its recipient. That adds something fun, spontaneous and just “real” to photo-sharing that’s pretty unprecedented in social media.

New parents’ guide

snapchat logoHere’s why: Typically in social networking, “users tend to feel pressure 
to curate the perfect representation of [themselves and] their lives for their friends, coworkers, and relatives,” as the people at Snapchat put it in their new “Guide for Parents.” With ephemeral photo-sharing (Facebook has a similar product called Poke), the pressure’s off. “It’s sharing that lives in the moment, and stays in the moment,” Snapchat says, and users seem to agree. They can really be themselves (e.g., see “A user’s perspective” in my last post on this phenomenon).

And there’s nothing disingenuous about that – I’m sure you’ve heard critics and even your kids talk about how people are “always on” in social media, as in “on stage,” that it’s about posing or self-presentation. That gives us pause, right? We want our kids (or anyone) to find freedom from that pressure, if they feel it – and many have the good sense to opt out or find workarounds such as this phenomenon called ephemeral photo-sharing.

Beware a false sense of security

But that shouldn’t give anyone – whether a user or the parent of one – a false sense of security about photos that disappear fast and that aren’t stored on corporate servers. I’ve mentioned before that parents might want to ask their kids if they’ve noticed friends capturing screenshots of photos they’ve shared. If it’d help, Mashable has a video that explains not only that (Snapchat users at your house know about it, I’m sure), but also about a workaround to Snapchat’s notification that a photo has been grabbed.

The workaround has 3 simple steps: keep one thumb on the photo on the phone’s screen, take the screenshot with the other thumb, then immediately double-tap the app’s home button, as demo’d in the video.

About workarounds

Snapchat’s parents’ guide doesn’t mention this, but that’s probably because Snapchat doesn’t even know about it. Half the fun of the *social* part of social media is sharing workarounds, mods, cheats, whatever. It’s not just a rules-are-made-to-be-broken thing (though that’s part of it, of course), but also a test-the-limits or look-at-this-cool-thing-I’ve-created or -discovered kind of thing. And there’s something wonderful about that. It’s white hat hacking that makes things better, more secure or more fun. It can be a creative or productive kind of leveling up that’s fun for the hacker and benefits both the system and others who use it. Playful and creative “hacking” like this, whether single-player or collaborative, is happening all the time in Minecraft, Roblox and other games and digital environments where kids are allowed to create and build things (“user-generated content,” or UGC for short). Most of us know this, but how much do we think about how it’s happening in or with what we think of as purely social apps?

Anyway, someday, somebody’s going to come out with an perishable-photo-sharing app that doesn’t allow screenshots. It’ll be to see what workarounds users come up with then!

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