There is no doubt that the Internet and the wide variety of social media platforms play a major role in our every day lives. As a society, it seems as though we have become accustomed, and even dependent, on having constantly flowing information and visual content.
Whether it’s with the intention of communication, news updates, entertainment, etc., we are regularly connected, updated, and intrigued with the resources our devices provide. The content we engage with obviously varies across different platforms, programs and services.
Snapchat is a mobile smartphone application, available on both iPhones and Androids, that began as an extremely simple and direct photo messaging service. When it was first created in 2011, users could only send time-limited photos that would disappear and delete afterward (Khan, Machine & Shozi, 2015). Since then, the app has grown and changed in tremendous ways.
Beyond sharing photos, videos, and messages with friends, either individually or in a group setting, today, Snapchat allows users to post longer-lasting content for a more public audience, as well as explore the news and entertainment section. A self-deleting selfie messenger has transformed into a major social media network, and some may say even a new form of television (Dredge, 2016).
The evolution and development of Snapchat has not only been influenced and driven by our society — our expressed interests, wants and needs — but Snapchat has in turn influenced numerous aspects of our society. It has altered our tone and frequency of communication, increased our social and self-surveillance and perceptions, brought a younger demographic into the political scene, among many other things. It has ultimately driven both the active and passive approaches and attitudes towards social media and the Internet. However, before we can effectively examine these various implications, it is important to understand the terms, features, and layout of Snapchat.
Selfies, Stories & Snap-Map: Understanding the Lingo
By now, we may all understand the meaning of a “selfie,” but Snapchat has further coined it’s own niche terms. Some of the basics include:
- Story: a string of content a user can post that will be publicly displayed to all of their contacts for 24 hours
- Streak: numbers displayed next to names indicating how many consecutive days those two users have interacted
- Filter: pre-set and overlaid edits or frames users can access by swiping the screen to the right or left after capturing photos or videos
- Lense: a form of augmented reality found on the camera screen that can transform a user’s face into different kinds of characters or objects
- Geofilter: filters or icons (often sponsored) only available in specific geographic locations or at specific events
- Memories: any photos or videos a user saves will be achieved here.
- Snap Map: interactive map of any friends who have opted to share their location
- Discover: access to daily stories or content from different news or media outlets and companies
Swiping Between Screens: Navigating Snapchat
While everyday users may navigate Snapchat at their leisure, newcomers may initially feel disoriented and need a simple guide. There may not be a main menu, but the camera screen is a good place to start. From here, you can quickly and easily access each of the other screens:
- Swipe Right for a list of your recently sent photos, videos, and chats.
- Swipe Left to view your friends’ stories and explore the Discover page content.
- Swipe Up to access your saved Memories.
- Swipe Down to explore Snap-Map or search for a specific friend’s location.
- Click the upper-left circle icon to view your profile and current story, add new friends, or access your settings menu.
Note the Internet Diffusion
Looking back, it seems as though each social media platform began with it’s own distinct features. But overtime, as companies have grown, there has been a sense of widespread diffusion. For example, while time-limited posts or “stories” may have originated on Snapchat, both Instagram and Facebook now offer these features (Shields, 2016).
In other words, to stay relevant, keep up with the market, and guarantee ongoing interest, these platforms have acquired and developed features inspired from other services. This demonstrates competition for attention and popularity to ensure economic prosperity. With that said, it is safe to say this will only expand and continue.
From Pictaboo to Snapchat: A Business Evolution
Snapchat was created in 2011 by three Stanford students, Evan Spiegel, Reggie Brown, and Bobby Murphy — Spiegel is now the CEO.
Initially created to simply send “awkward selfies and funny photos” to friends, Snapchat has had an impressive evolution. The following timeline outlines the company’s growing business model and economic standing over the last seven years:
- Spiegel, Brown & Murphy created what was originally called “Pictaboo” (Spring)
- Pictaboo had approximately 127 users (Summer)
- Name officially changed to “Snapchat”
- Snapchat now had around 100,000 users
- First seed investment & company valued at $4.25 million
- Over 60 million snapchats sent daily
- Valuation now $800 million (June)
- New “Story” feature
- Zuckerberg, co-founder and leader of Facebook, offered $3 billion to purchase Snapchat (regardless of the lack of revenue at the time), but Spiegel denied this request
- Valuation now $2 billion (December)
- Develop monetization plan with new “Geofilter” feature — businesses can now pay to create geofilters for advertisement and data collection
- Company begins work on an IPO valuing the company at $24 billion and $17 per share
- Sources of income now include general snapchat advertisements, sponsored lenses, sponsored geofilters, and discover page advertisements
- Revenue doubled since 2016
- Company worth $24.59 billion
For the visual learners…
Considering advertising is clearly a leading feature of the business model, as users, we must ask consider how we feel and respond to being constantly bombarded with ads. Are we already accustomed to this from TV commercials and other social media advertising? Or is Snapchat taking this to an entirely new level?
I would argue these kinds of advertisements gain better, more acute attention because they are intertwined into Snapchat stories we are momentarily extremely engaged in (opposed to having the ability to mentally tune out commercial breaks when watching TV). This means they may have more power to sway our attitudes or actions, which is something we should be aware of.
Implications & Impacts
From a business and economic standpoint, the company’s growth and progression is highly commendable. However, we cannot forget who is on the other side of the screen — the users. It is important that we remain observant and critical of the widespread societal implications and repercussions of this application.
Social Pressures & Corruption:
The ephemeral nature of Snapchat has reframed the possibilities within both casual and intimate forms of digital communication. It can also have possible consequences on an individual’s self-perception.
Due to users knowing and trusting that Snapchats are deleted forever after the time-limit ends, they may feel more comfortable and confident sending content that may be more embarrassing, bold, or risky (Khan et al., 2015).
According to Charteris, Gregory & Masters (2018), this very concept has ignited a moral panic in adults around teenagers’ engagement with this form of media. Sexting and cyberbullying are two of the main concerns.
Sexting is defined as the “electronic transmission of sexually provocative or explicit images or videos between mobile devices” (Charteris et al., 2018: 209). The self-destruction of the photos, videos or messages that are sent can become a source of encouragement for sexting.
Charteris et al. explains, “Disappearing media provides a vehicle for youth self-objectification that can constitute both a site of pleasure and sexual liberation and coercive ‘technology-mediated sexual pressure’” (206).
While some users may have full intentions and desires to participate in this activity, others may simply feel peer pressured to do so. In general, peer pressure can already be pervasive and harmful, but in this context, it can cause a serious corruption of youth and innocence.
Additionally, if the content is going to disappear, there will be no visible proof. This can provide an easy platform for cyberbullying, which can be defined as “threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual” (Charteris et al., 2018: 210).
Snapchat also highlights and perpetuates the overarching societal pressure to gain and maintain attention…
Consider the “attention economy” – a term to explain how today, Internet and media users trade their attention for the information they seek. While our access to knowledge and content continues to expand, our particular capabilities to absorb and consume information remain constant and limited (Havalais, 2013).
While this phrase more specifically refers to media providers’ constant challenge to gain users’ attention, I would argue this can also be applied on a more personal level. By constantly posting on social media accounts, users are presenting a version of themselves they want to be known. This display is useless unless they gain attention from their chosen audience or network.
While this may be true across all social media platforms, Snapchat, with it’s nature of selfies and time-sensitive displays, especially perpetuates this attitude.
Charteris et al. explain, “Attention is highly focused for a set time period and teens can present images of ideal selves (at times extremely humorous) to pique the interest of peers” (2018: 207). This creates a social pressure to produce the most appealing and eye-catching content.
Lastly, since content is fleeting and the app lacks searchable profiles, users may feel pressure to constantly post in order to stay relevant. A source stated the average user checked his/her account 14 times a day (Tan, MacMillan, Marshall, 2014), and this average has most likely increased since then. Every day we are more and more consumed by these services.
Privacy and Safety Risks:
Snapchat’s existence and popularity is highly dependent on users’ trust that the content will shortly be deleted. As previously mentioned, this encourages a sense of freedom and fearlessness with humor, intimate relationships, and so on.
However, researchers have found there are easy ways for average and novice smartphone users to retrieve and save Snapchat data that was otherwise believed to have disappeared (Khan et al., 2015). In other words, this is not a matter of fearing the occasional skilled hacker — almost anyone could accomplish this if they wanted.
This invasion of privacy not only poses risks for social reputations, but this could lead to serious legal issues. It causes us to ask the question: Who has the rights to the content produced on this app — the sender? the reciever? Snapchat? The answer currently seems unclear.
The World of Politics:
By incorporating the “Discover” feature and partnering with other news and media companies, Snapchat has opened up to the world of politics. Or better put, Snapchat has brought the young people that may not interact with traditional news outlets into the world of politics (Mahler, 2015).
The “Discover” page allows Snapchat’s media partners, such as CNN, ESPN, Vice, magazines like Cosmopolitan, etc., to post content every 24 hours on their own channel (Mahler, 2015).
These stories now have the ability to reach an audience they may have not otherwise. For example, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat played large roles in the 2016 US Presidential campaign; 25% of American adults claimed they accessed news about the election through social media posts, opposed to 15% who used candidates’ websites. Over this period, Snapchat incorporated political geofilters, offered campaign information through a variety of news providers on the Discover page, and provided live election results and video clips of speeches, etc. (Boorstin, 2016).
Furthermore, users can quite literally enter this world of news by sharing their stories to the “Live” feature; anyone within a set digital boundary, or “geofence,” of an event can contribute to a public Story.
Snapchat, alongside numerous other platforms, is changing the way we seek, process, and share news. Thus far, it seems to be encouraging increased political awareness and participation. However, with this easy access to news outlets, do users ever stop and question whether the provided sources are bias or even true? Just because we can get information with the tap of a finger doesn’t mean we should not always remain critical of what we are consuming.
I would argue that Snapchat and it’s original and unique characteristics have truly transformed our world of social media…
With Snapchat, users do not craft a long-lasting and searchable profile with personal information, photos, and statuses like Facebook. Users’ posts are not publicly archived like Instagram or Twitter. Snapchat experiences are different every single day depending on who a user interacts with and what their friends or news subscriptions have posted in the last 24 hours.
While this makes the app exciting, it simultaneously adds a great deal of pressure — pressure for content to be desirable, attractive, and eye-catching to gain attention and pressure to constantly post this particular content to maintain this attention. Snapchat creates a “social landscape through which teens surveil themselves and others” (Charteris et al., 2018: 206), which has the power to completely alter individual’s societal perceptions. It has become our multifaceted, social window…
We’re constantly assessing our own appearance while watching other people and comparing their daily activities with our own. Picture a young teenager’s mental state after watching 10+ Snapchat stories of a party they weren’t invited to…
Additionally, Snapchat’s provision of news and information is changing the way young people engage in a political sense. While this increased knowledge and participation can be beneficial, there are potential risks of bias since Snapchat ultimately determines what providers it partners with.
From a wider perspective, Snapchat has made tremendous contributions to our relationship with the Internet, other people, and even ourselves. It has changed our tone and frequency of communication, given us a platform to display our ideal selves, and made news and political conversations more accessible to younger people.
The ephemeral nature has added pressure to constantly post or engage in the messaging to stay relevant, demonstrating an increased active Internet behavior. However, it also encourages a passive attitude, as users are able to easily and passively view Stories and our Discover feed.
The short-lasting content will only continue to leave long-lasting impacts on our society and world of social media.
Boorstin, J. (2016, November 08). Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter played a bigger role than ever in the election. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/08/facebook-snapchat-and-twitter-played-a-bigger-role-than-ever-in-the-election.html.
Charteris, J., Gregory, S., & Masters, Y. (2018). ‘Snapchat’, youth subjectivities and sexuality: disappearing media and the discourse of youth innocence. Gender & Education, 30(2), 205–221. https://doi-org.exlibris.colgate.edu/10.1080/09540253.2016.1188198.
Cuofano, G. (2018, September 27). Everything You Need to Know About Snapchat Business Model [Financial Infographic Inside]. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://fourweekmba.com/snapchat-business-model/.
Dredge, S. (2016, Sep 25). New to snapchat? here’s how to join the conversation. The Observer Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1822896042?accountid=10207.
Havalais, Alexander (2013) ‘The Engines’. In Search Engine Society. Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press. pp. 5-31.
Khan, Z. C., Mashiane, T., & Shozi, N. A. (2015). Snapchat media retrieval for novice device users. Paper presented at the 162-XII. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1781335735?accountid=10207.
Mahler, J. (2015, May 05). Snapchat moves into politics. International New York Times Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1678053073?accountid=10207.
Shields, M. (2016, Aug 15). Media companies try out instagram’s new ‘stories’. The Wall Street Journal Asia Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1811242828?accountid=10207
Tan, G., MacMillan, D., & Marshall, J. (2014, Aug 21). Snapchat to serve up news, ads and videos. The Wall Street Journal Asia Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1554689738?accountid=10207.
Parker, S. (2016, February 03). The Evolution of Snapchat. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from http://platformmagazine.org/2015/02/13/the-evolution-of-snapchat/.