Snapchat is a photo sharing app with a difference: images self-destruct just seconds after viewing. The whole point is to safeguard privacy. Images are not saved in the cloud where they can come back to haunt the user when s/he least expects it.

Using the Snapchat app to photograph my bookcase

Using the Snapchat app to photograph my bookcase

The user interface is simple. You snap a photo, choose how long you would like it to last (3-10 seconds), select a recipient and tap the send button. When you receive a message, you simply press down on the notification line. You then have a very limited time in order to view the photo. I found it annoying that you have to press and hold, which means that you can’t view the whole photo because your finger is in the way.

Once the time is up, neither the sender nor the receiver can see the photo again. As Snapchat reminds users, however, the app cannot prevent recipients from taking a screen capture of the image that you send them. Thus, even though images are not stored anywhere on your phone or in the cloud, Snapchat is not a completely safe technology to use for sharing photos privately.

I first read about Snapchat a few months ago in Bloomberg Businessweek. The article draws particular attention to the issue of privacy in the digital age. One of the books it references is called Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age. I immediately ordered it from my local library and read it with great interest. If you are at all interested in technology and privacy questions, I highly recommend it.

Snapchat’s effort in attempting to address the issue of Internet privacy is to be commended. While it might not have any direct application in libraries, I believe it does have indirect application in spurring us to think more deeply about reader privacy.


5 thoughts on “Snapchat

  1. nomesknows

    Another social media format that seems to almost entirely depend on having a smart phone, etc. I think that part of the challenges that libraries need to address is how to use social media effectively to reach the people who still have “dumb phones”*.

    *like me…

    1. mcnabbarchives

      Agreed. I’m not sure how libraries could really use snapchat to their advantage, but there are lots of other examples of libraries using smart phone-only social media platforms. I’m really frustrated with QR codes being all over the place now since they rely on owning an expensive phone and also being able to afford a monthly data plan. All these apps and things are really cool and I see that they have the potential to really revolutionize reference services, outreach, community building, and so forth… but there is a real class access issue. Which is odd to me since libraries tend to be really proactive about trying to bridge the digital divide.

  2. Carleen

    I’ve heard snapchat has become quite popular with teens. In fact, my 16 year old cousin was here visiting a few weeks ago and she was using it constantly. Which might be where libraries should come in, or more specifically, teen librarians. I think snapchat can give people, especially teens, a false notion of privacy, that they can upload anything and get away with it never causing them a problem because it disappears after a few seconds. I guess it’s the recent rape case in Steubenville that keeps coming to mind, and the part social media played in it. In that case, it would be the opposite where I could see something like snapchat being used to share horrible photos of crimes being committed, maybe even encouraging that kind of behavior. I don’t know. There’s something about snapchat that makes me oddly uncomfortable. Maybe it’s that I’ve always lived by the rule that if it’s something you want to keep private, then just don’t share it at all.

    1. Nomi

      I think that the rule that you shouldn’t share things that you want to keep private is a very good one. I have also used the rule, if I wouldn’t say it/wear it/do it in front of my grandmother, I probably should just refrain. There are lots of people who might look at me and see someone who is relatively conservative (at least in terms of how I present myself), but I have found that while I might sometimes wish that people saw the other sides of me, I care much more that they have no reason to question my good judgment or my integrity. I think that that has been one of my great concerns about many social media platforms…they blur the boundaries and make it much harder to maintain a high level of control as to how you present yourself. If you aren’t on them, there is just less to worry about. However, not participating doesn’t inherently present a problem, it just lessens it, so it is also possible to see that as effectively throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


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