If you’re anything like me, you know about Snapchat, and there’s literally nothing else in the entire universe that you could care less about. You could even say that you care more about the ridiculous show Married at First Sight than you do about Snapchat – and that’s not saying much.
But, this is your dilemma: Snapchat is everywhere. All the celebs are doing it – and all of the kids you know are doing it. Including your own.
And yet, it makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever. Why can’t people be normal and just post a nice photo or video of themselves to Facebook, or Instagram? Why do we have ‘stories’ everywhere that just disappear and aren’t part of your permanent ‘album’?
So I’m ‘mumming-up’ and doing a deep dive to give you this Snapchat basics explainer. Don’t worry, I’ve kept it really simple, because I know that every parent would much rather be reading an article called “101 things you can reclaim when your kids leave home.”
What (TF) is Snapchat?
An app that kids these days are using to communicate with each other. The basic premise being that they share photos and ‘stories’ (aka, videos) that eventually disappear – they don’t remain a permanent part of an online profile. It’s apparently supposed to mimic real life conversation.
“When you go to lunch with a friend, the conversation doesn’t last beyond the meal — and Snapchat has managed to recreate that light, low-pressure feeling,” reads a parents guide published by Snapchat. Um, ok.
The other feature of Snapchat is filters. You’ve probably seen the adorable puppy one, or the crown of flowers. For some reason, it’s not enough to show yourself doing something – you also have to look like you’ve got a snout or have birds flying around your head.
I’m still not entirely sure of what the point of all of this is. Hence the next question:
What exactly is the (bizarre) appeal of Snapchat?
Let’s defer this question to the man we can blame the entire situation on: Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel.
Snapchat’s made him the youngest billionaire in the world. So this is a smart guy, who fundamentally understands the appeal. And, according to him, it’s all about timing.
Speigel explains that the smart phone has revolutionised the way our kids use photographs. Photos aren’t just about saving memories, as us older generation are accustomed to thinking; they’re now an instant – but crucially, fleeting – expression of identity.
“Snapchat always starts with a snap,” he says simply, explaining that a conversation always starts with a photo because that’s how kids these days relate: it’s the 2018 version of “a picture says a thousand words.”
Snapchat is different from other social media, which is based on a ‘feed’ that’s based on popularity, so that often you see an end before you see a beginning. Whereas Snapchat is in chronological order – it’s all about the here and now (and puppy ears).
One of the cool-kids in the office also explained to me that Snapchat is a response to the carefully curated profiles on Facebook and Instagram. So you know how we used to, for example, choose from 1000 professional photos to make a hardcopy wedding album of 100 pics? This is the opposite of that.
That’s why while FB and Insta are seen as for ‘grown-ups’, Snapchat is instant – thus, casual, spontaneous and fun.
I was told, “It’s about the ‘no fucks given’ lifestyle.”
An indication of this is Snapchat’s nudity policy, where literally anything goes – hence the common saying, “send nudes.” The app doesn’t operate like FB and Insta, who store user data – the photos and videos disappear almost instantly.
The office cool-kid also explained the appeal of the filters. I put to him that I find it strange that young adults spend their time distorting images of themselves for fun, but he described it was “playing with photos – adults get to be kids. It’s a relief from boredom, or loneliness – pure escapism.”
Fine, whatever, I guess that makes sense, but I can’t help but feel that obviously, those people don’t have enough responsibilities.
So if I was ever forced to under perilous hostage conditions, how would I actually use Snapchat?
Open the app and you’re directed straight to the camera. You can either take a picture by tapping the giant circle near the bottom of the screen, or hold it down for video. You can also hold down anywhere on the screen to bring up the filters, because nothing says #yolo like animated bunny whiskers on your face.
You can also add text to your photo or video, and chat with people directly – so #oldskool.
Once it’s ready, you can either send it directly to a Snapchat contact, or share it as part of a story video.
But just keep in mind that anyone can screenshot whatever you post, before it disappears. Which is something important to consider if you’re an international celebrity and are attempting to attract headlines (yes, I’m side-eyeing you, Kylie Jenner).
Should I worry about my kids using it?
Probably. But Snapchat requires users be at least 13 years old to have an account, and it has a number of safety features that parents can enable. By default, most privacy settings in Snapchat are set to friends, which means the user must approve who can view their Story or contact them directly.
But, let’s face it – kids will always find a way around things, so the best a parent can do is, as the parents guide says, “Remind kids to never send Snaps that are illegal, could get them in trouble now or in the future, or would be embarrassing if seen by people like grandparents or college admissions officers.”
Can young kids take over smart homes to order toys and delivery pizza? We discuss, on our podcast for imperfect parents.