If you have teens at home, they are probably on Snapchat. With Snapchat being relatively new amongst its social media peers, the platform is a tad difficult for an older generation of parents to understand. In fact, most teenagers attribute the long hours they spend on Snapchat to the fact that their parents don’t understand how Snapchat works and therefore are not on the platform!
Discover Snapchat's 'Discover' Feature
Snapchat has a feature called ‘Discover’, which shows its users content based on pop culture. Individuals and companies can create channels on ‘Discover’ and put up content to encourage Snapchat users to visit their channel. While the minimum age requirement to join Snapchat is 13, individual channels on Discover age-gate R-rated content.
The content on Discover ranges from innocent and friendly to vulgar and crass. Despite a lot of the content on Discover being age-gated, meaning you have to be over 18 to access it, a few channels have been known to have removed the age-gate in order to get more users to its channel.
This means that over 23 million children, who are on Snapchat, could have unmoderated access to such content. What is even more infuriating is that, the uncensored content could be misleading, wrong, potentially harmful or even ‘mature’ content, impacting what naïve readers of the content could be influenced to do.
Incidentally, it is extremely easy to lie about your age before signing up on Snapchat. It’s a breeze for children below 13 to give a false date of birth, and it’s almost impossible for Snapchat to verify the truth.
Why would Snapchat potentially expose millions of children to R-rated content? To understand this you need to understand how Snapchat makes money out of its 'free’ service.
What’s In It for Snapchat?
Snapchat makes money from brands and companies willing to advertise their products and services on its platform. And when do companies choose to advertise on a particular platform? When millions of users are actively using it! Therefore, to ensure that users aren’t “bored” and going to look for other social media alternatives, Snapchat brings out new features to keep its audience engaged. Towards this end, Snapchat had previously introduced image filters.
It has now introduced the 'Discover' feature.
But this is just half the story.
In order to encourage content generation, Snapchat had to incentivize the whole process, rewarding channels that have greater traction. And like most online content, virality requires a clickbait headline (and body content that, more often than not, provides little to no value to its readers). In other words, the content is light on the brain.
What does a company do when it depends upon catchy headlines and has a falling stock price? It goes all out to protect itself and its shareholders. It encourages creators to produce content that is extremely engaging, keeping barriers to access light and flexible. In some cases, morals go out the window in the face of an opportunity for virality. Accountability is no longer of maximum value.
Vi-ral-i-ty (noun). The tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another; the quality or fact of being viral.
By continuing to allow channels to post irresponsibly on a platform where 30% of the users are below 18 years of age and 70% are female, Snapchat has refused to acknowledge its popularity and the impressionability of its minor users. In this day and age, it takes very little for a fad to catch on, and when channels on Discover don’t acknowledge their responsibilities, it only makes matters worse for parents who are trying to protect children from the harms of the Web.
The solution, it seems, is simple—increase the minimum age required to join Snapchat considerably and enforce age-gates! This would ensure that even its youngest users are mature enough to consume explicit content without getting carried away. However, this measure must be coupled with a strong yet secure verification process which ensures that nobody can lie about their birthdate. To implement such a verification process would require government ID proof to be shared with Snapchat, raising concerns of data breaches. A complicated process indeed!
Therefore, the real solution goes back to having a good talk with your teens (and maybe using a parental control software like Mobicip?).
What Parents Can Do
Until Snapchat becomes accountable about the content on its platform, we strongly encourage parents to speak out and alert cyber police if they happen upon vulgar content. We also advise you to monitor the social media activities of your children. Open up the channels of communication to ensure that your kids feel free to discuss with you what they come across online.
Writing credit: Authored by Anitha, a mother of two children with interests in EdTech and a strong advocate for Digital Citizenship.