Ephemeral, spontaneous and fulfilling your communication dream: Snapchat

Overtime, Snapchat has become one of the most prominent social media platforms used for communication purposes; to visually document moments in limited periods of time and connect people from across the globe. The repercussions of its success and it’s simple business model of ephemerality has sparked social controversy yet also economic growth; it is a part of an online ecology that provides a nuanced perspective on its purpose within society and the way we use media.





What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is an ephemeral social media platform. It’s an app used by viewers whereby content is displayed for a limited amount of time being up to 10 seconds or being only displayed once as users can send content through to other users. According to Valkenburg and Piotrowski (2017) “this rapid synchronous communication” creates a sense of control whereby people can constantly stay  in direct contact with their friends. (Valkenburg, P., & Piotrowski, J. 2017). The multimedia messages are referred to as ‘snaps’; snaps, consisting of a photo or a short video, which can be edited to include filters and effects, text captions, and drawings. (Neves, B., & Casimiro, C. (Eds.). 2018) The app also has a “story” feature where content can be displayed with filters or captions. One can “swipe to chat”, where you can message other users on a texting-like service and also use the ‘discover’ page to view news stories, read articles and view what celebrities and other public figures are doing. Within this, advertisers can promote their content in short videos or images as users browse the app. The features within Snapchat have developed overtime and as the entity has become more successful, updates and features have transformed to engage with various audiences. Snapchat.com refers to its app as the “kind of camera that’s connected to your friends and the world.” (Snapchat.com)


How Snapchat begun:

The functions of Snapchat have evolved over a significant period of time. It’s history and development inextricably links to its success and ability to economise and profit from the app. Snapchat was launched in 2011 as a presentation to the solution to stresses caused by the longevity of personal information on social media. (Neves, B., & Casimiro, C. (Eds.). 2018) Founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy formulated the notion of snapchat as a place whereby one could send instantaneous, non-aestheticized content to their closest friends and have the content not necessarily last for a long time. Initially the idea was to have the content leaving no trace with its creator thus losing a sense that it would last ‘forever’. Breaking the name down; the founders deemed ‘snap’ as instantaneous and ‘chat’ as conversation.


The first year of its operation saw snapchat only having one feature which was sending photos to friends that could only be seen for a maximum of ten seconds. The app was always targeted for a high school and college demographic; part of the appeal was being able to send content to friends secretly in class or during a lecture. (Snapchatmarketing.co) Then in December 2012, the feature of sending videos was added. 2012 saw Snapchat’s first investor of Lightspeed Ventures and at the same time it was announced that Snapchat’s valuation was $70 million. But as money was invested in the company, and its success was forming there was also a sense of stigmatisation looming. Articles were written about how Snapchat promoted sexual explicitness with sexting and how the erasure of images and videos allowed for sexting to happen.


Snapchat’s features continued to extend with a new feature of snapchat stories introduced. It allowed users to share content in a sequential publication of content in a chronological order which only lasted for 24 hours. The new feature gave Snapchat a collaborative edge and became extremely popular as soon as they were launched. Other major social networking platforms Instagram and Facebook launched ‘stories’ from Snapchat as well. The appeal was  that weren’t sent to your friends, nor did they generate any type of alerts.


On January 27 2015, Snapchat launched ‘Discover’ letting users see content from select brands including ESPN, Warner Music, Vice, and CNN. Not only did this provide an entertainment factor for Snapchat but drew focus to these major companies as well. (snapchat marketing.co) The news content was produced specifically for Snapchat and tapping into the app’s ephemerality logic, ‘Discover’ is changed daily with its contents deleted after 24 hours. Snapcahat’s blatant success is evident as Instagram admits to copying its story feature in August 2016; with the service being “a striking resemblance — some might say…carbon copy — to Snapchat Stories” (Issac, 2016) Another feature of snapchat is launched called “Snap Map” adding to the discourse of controversy surrounding privacy issues within Snapchat.


Business model of Snapchat: Ephemerality

Snapchat was primarily produced to create a sense of ephemerality; content created and shared spontaneously whereby so it could be circulated with others with the reassurance it will disappear within a given time frame. (Thomas, B. 2017) According to Thomas, there is a prominent “storytelling” culture on social media which aspects of Snapchat epitomise. The emergence of an “attention economy” in a technologically driven society today has been manipulated through the app in its ability to amplify everyday experiences as paramount. Snapchat forges our self-perception and identity, through recording even the most inconsequential of life events and opening out those events for comment and response by others. (Thomas, B. 2017) It has been argued to produce a “type of funhouse mirror” of a life, and an “ambient awareness” of others’ lives for a viewership that constantly surveils and  connects with each other (Marwick 211, 214).


In terms of snapchat fostering a sense of identity, we can see that there is link inextricably created between our documentation of triviality and our social technological activity. According to Megele and Buzzi  it “is not difficult to understand the reason for Snapchat’s popularity among young people.” Since there is a ‘lack of consequentiality’, the ephemerality of messages creates a fun atmosphere for users; the augmented reality and gamified social standing offered will allow users to develop their social identity and seek social belonging. (Megele, C., & Buzzi, P. 2018) Snapchat invites you to replace verbal communication with photographs, and through the deletion of the photos, it mimics real life through ephemerality of oral communication. (Simanowski, 2016) Simanowski, highlights that because of this, it has had a transformative and revolutionary effect on studying media today. He states that Snapchats promotes a new transition from the symbolic practices of language as purely dialectal, to a “language” of visuality that the media philosopher Flusser in the 1980s predicted as part of the development of digital media. (Simanowski, 2016) Whilst this appeal of ephemerality is firmly embedded within youth culture, it can also go beyond the bounds of this group. We can analyse its function that has transformed the media landscape simply through the name of the app which is a pun on the word ‘snapshot’. Snapchat is a persistent reference to evacuated moments that have promoted revolutionalised media as being documentation of ephemeral instances.


Snapchat popularity:

The nature of Snapchat’s popularity is testament to its success and transformative effect on media institutions and how our perception of media has altered. Many reports have been created outlining user usage of Snapchat, however I was drawn to the Sensis Social Media 2017 Report addressing Australian social media usage. According to the report, Snapchat is the the most frequently accessed site averaging 42 visits weekly. For usage, they stated that Snapchat is used 32 minutes more than other social media sites. Snapchat is one of the social media networks, like Instagram and now twitter because of their more visual layout, that epitomizes our love of visual content. Out of the users surveyed, who were from a breadth of social groups and statuses, usage of snapchat saw a dramatic increase. Last year 22% of people used the app but this year there are 40%. (Sensis, 2017)





Controversy surrounding Snapchat: Issues of sex from Ephemerality


Snapchat has become a forum for sexting, the sending and/or receiving of sexual or sexually suggestive images or videos amongst adolescents. (Shariff, S & DeMartini, A. 2015). Because of the fact that content can be sent to recipients with a limited time to view, the platform might lead teenagers to believe they do not have to worry about creating a lasting record however, in fact, their actions are traceable. Recipients can take screenshots, and what may be intended to be private, can be widely disseminated online.


Consequentially, there are legal repercussions and many child pornography cases are associated with sharing content on Snapchat. For example, Shariff and DeMartini draws attention to the case of ten boys being arrested in Laval, Quebec for screenshotting intimate and nude images of girls after convincing them to send such photographs. (Shariff, S & DeMartini, A. 2015). They were charged with distribution and possession of child pornography. Further, circumstances like these perpetuate the stigmitised discourse surrounding ‘slut-shaming’ where sexualised images, potentially expressing females’ sexual agency, lead to cyberbullying and public humiliation. Snapchat has played a role in transforming and creating new social attitudes that condone or normalise sexual violence. (Shariff, S & DeMartini, A. 2015). They argue that rape culture and gender imbalance are prevalent due to the trends Snapchat inexplicitly endorses. In a positive light however, they discus how there has been significant pressure for policymakers to implement greater legislation and harsher punishment for youth offenders who engage in cyberbullying or non-consensual distribution of sexualised images. Highlighting gender issues within the realm of Snapchat, it’s important to criticise the misogynistic attacks that may happen online. Thus, when viewing the cultural issue through gendered dimensions we can see ramifications of harm and culpability from sexting and how Snapchat can come very close to creating an uneasy relationship between sexual expression and social expectations. (snapchat 14)


The marketing perspective of Snapchat: Economic repercussions of the app

Snapchat is a unique social media network as unlike a simple image and video messaging app, it is a medium where advertisers and marketers can engage consumers unlike any other platforms. (Kannenberg, Vanessa, & Sousa, Maíra Evangelista de (2017) The distinguished features, such as Filters, Lenses and Discover, of the app allow a very complex user experience and the act of advertising is not traditional and more unconventional. Snap Inc. makes its profits through the sponsoring and advertisements that appear on many platforms within the app. aArtistically, the advertisers can manipulate the filters and lenses through illustrations and effects added to the images or videos. On the ‘Discover’ page, ads appear after a certain amount of usage time and thus Snap Ads are created. For instance, the brand Cheetos manipulated the filter and lens to create a fun appeal for the company.  Cheetos advertised a new product with a cheetah face lens and illustration on the screen overlaying the user’s face. This mimicked the act of eating Cheetos in an interactive, creative way.


There is also content that is inexplicitly promoted through the events that can be documented live at locations or places around the world. For example at the Super Bowl parade videos and photos were compiled by users and endorsers and came up as an event and story that people could watch and engage with. Generally, the content that is included is from a celebrity or it is filmed by someone at the site. The captions are often witty and the video films matter that is quite significant so the audience can be engaged. Alternatively, there is also the ‘Discover’ page where everything is pre-edited and created by people who are employed by media publishers and partners such as CNN, Cosmopolitan, ESPN and many others.The viewer’s experience also extends with Snap Ads. Videos are played in the context when people are using Snapchat and Snapchatters can “swipe up” with this interactive element and see more about the advertised content.




Therefore, it is evident that Snapchat has had a transformative effect on the way we perceive media today. (Neves B. & Casimiro C., 2018 )  The content makes Snapchat an instant narrative vehicle that is similar to verbal story exchange. As it an entity, it is extremely multi-faceted, providing platforms for advertising yet also being a source of controversy and speculation. However, its ephemerality has provided users a basis of spontaneous and intuitive communication mimicking real-space face-to- face interaction.



Isaac, M. (2016). Instagram Takes a Page From Snapchat, and Takes Aim at It, Too. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/03/technology/instagram-stories-snapchat-facebook.html


Kannenberg, Vanessa, & Sousa, Maíra Evangelista de (2017). The ghostly social network site: how Snapchat is being appropriated for journalistic content circulation. Intercom: Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação40(3), 151-167. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1809-5844201739


Marwick, A E (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age. Yale UP,.

Megele, C., & Buzzi, P. (2018). Safeguarding children and young people online: A guide for practitioners. Bristol, UK; Chicago, IL, USA: Bristol University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1x76gnp



Neves, B., & Casimiro, C. (Eds.). (2018). Connecting Families?: Information & Communication Technologies, generations, and the life course. Bristol: Bristol University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv2867xm


Neves B. & Casimiro C. (Eds.) (2018), Acknowledgements in Connecting Families?: Information & Communication Technologies, generations, and the life course (p. Xiv). Bristol: Bristol University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv2867xm.5


Sensis. (2017). Sensis Social Media Report 2017. Retrieved from https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/535ef142/files/uploaded/Sensis_Social_Media_Report_2017-Chapter-1.pdf



SIMANOWSKI, R. (2016). Data Love: The Seduction and Betrayal of Digital Technologies. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/sima17726


Shariff, S., & DeMartini, A. (2015). Defining the Legal Lines: EGirls and Intimate Images. In Bailey J. & Steeves V. (Eds.), EGirls, eCitizens: Putting Technology, Theory and Policy into Dialogue with Girls’ and Young Women’s Voices (pp. 281-306). University of Ottawa Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15nmj7f.15


Snapchat Timeline Key Events, Facts and Dates | Snapchat Marketing. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.snapchatmarketing.co/snapchat-timeline/



Thomas, B. (2017). Whose Story is it Anyway? Following Everyday Accounts of Living with Dementia on Social Media. Style, 51(3), 357-373. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.51.3.0357



Valkenburg, P., & Piotrowski, J. (2017). Plugged In: How Media Attract and Affect Youth. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1n2tvjd



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