Snapchat in the Spotlight

Part of my major project is a personal exploration of the app Snapchat. You can read more about my major project here and here. My classmate Sapna posted about this resource called The Complete Guide to Snapchat for Teachers and Parents. This article talks about three foundational beliefs about Snapchat:

On one side of the coin, these foundational beliefs remind me of this article (Snapchat Wins Because You Have No Attention Span) and also a video our professor Alec posted via Twitter last week called It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting. In this video, the vlogger, Tristan Harris talks about reversing the digital attention crisis and asking ourselves what is really worth our attention. It is clear that Snapchat has young people’s attention. However, is that attention being held in a meaningful way? I think that is certainly up for debate.

On the other side of the coin, these foundational beliefs are the reasons young people love Snapchat. ConnectSafely.org created a Parent’s Guide to Snapchat that states, young people love Snapchat because “They love the spontaneity of it. It’s been (rightfully) drummed into their heads for years that photos and videos you share are on the Web forever and are really hard to take back, so Snapchat’s a relief in a lot of ways. It’s playful and “in the moment” – a nice change from the self-presentation and reputation issues in social media services that display photos and videos indefinitely”.

Snapchat seems to have a knack for getting to the heart of what young people are looking for. In fact, there has been many recent news articles about the decline of older social media platforms such as this one: Facebook lost around 2.8 million U.S. users under 25 last year. 2018 won’t be much better.

One reason, this article suggests, for the decline in Facebook users is that “Facebook…serves as a digital record keeper — but many young people don’t seem to care about saving their life online, at least not publicly”.

[I wonder how this phenomenon fits into our teaching about digital citizenship? Is it safer for teens to use an app of ephemeral nature while they are young to avoid the permanency of other social media platforms?]

However, despite the seeming popularity of the app, many users are outraged at the latest updates. Users spoke out in anger in a variety of ways (videos, blog posts, Tweets, etc.) calling for the app to reverse its most recent changes. Essentially, the app is now divided, with “Friends” on one side of the app and celebrities and news on the other side of the app. Snapchat queen, Kylie Jenner spoke out about the changes as well: Kylie Jenner kills Snapchat with one TweetCaptureSome users were upset that the old version of the app made it seem like celebrities were “friends” while the new version disconnected this friendly assumption. It is not new news that users are not happy with the new version of the app. Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel responded by saying “Snapchat’s redesign was meant for your friends, and celebrities aren’t your friends“. This Recode article highlights “Snapchat is making a big bet that uses want to hear more from their friends than from celebrities…or brands. Or at the very least, they want to separate most of those interactions into two different parts of the app. It’s not a crazy idea. Facebook just changed its News Feed algorithm to achieve the same goal. And Instagram realized a few years back that it needed to try and find ways to help users see more from friends and less from brands…But there must be a reason these tech companies keep coming back to prioritizing friend-to-friend interactions…It’s worth remembering that while Jenner’s frustration clearly surprised a lot of investors, it probably didn’t surprise Evan Spiegel”. This takes me back to the foundational beliefs of Snapchat mentioned at the beginning of the post. Snapchat’s main goal is to connect (IRL, not celebrity) friends in a fun and ephemeral way. Despite what Kylie Jenner says, I don’t think Snapchat will change their app development plan and it turns out, they likely don’t have to. It was all part of their plan in the first place!

In all of this Snapchat news, I think they are some key messages to think about as they relate to our ECI832 course:

  1. First, that there is an interesting element of Digital Commerce at play in that major social media figures, such as Kylie Jenner, can have a significant impact on the stock market. Many people jumped to sell their Snapchat stocks following her tweet about her recent distaste for the app. While her role may often be seen as superficial, her tweet was certainly a big deal for many investors and Snapchat users alike.
  2. Second, that there is an element of Digital Health Wellness that must be called into question as apps redesign their platforms. My mind is jumping back to the mindless scrolling and addictiveness of apps. What ethical role do app designers have in thinking about the digital health and wellness of it’s users? Do app designers have a responsibility to care or is it all about profit? This would be an interesting topic to explore in the future.
  3. Finally, that at the heart of Snapchat’s foundational beliefs is the idea of connecting people, making human contact (“We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends”), fun and creativity as it relates to one’s digital footprint (“Sharing those moments should be fun”) and allowing young people the opportunity for digital forgiveness and also privacy (“There is value in the ephemeral”).

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4 thoughts on “Snapchat in the Spotlight

  1. I really enjoyed reading your review of what you have found with the app so far. The notion of snapchat being exactly what kids want is an interesting one. In a sense, the attention, the “thrill” and the feeling of belonging is the same expectation/desire that we had as teenagers, but it is now just being found in a different way. I just recently vacationed in Cuba over February break where Snapchat didn’t work at all regardless of where I was connected to the internet on the Cayo Coco island. When I got home I wanted to know more about this and came across several articles about celebrities being frustrated with not being able to “snap” while in Cuba. It really puts some of our first world problems into perspective, and highlights our priorities as a society when we take a step back and realize how this “inconvenience”, in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t that big of a deal. Thank you for sharing your review thus far!

  2. I wonder how many people would balk at the idea that Snapchat is working towards creating more meaningful connections between friends and family? As someone who as always loved Snapchat and the wonderful filters they come up with, I think they are on to something with working towards separating our real world and the celebrity world. I personally am not one to follow too many celebrities on any social platform but I love the silly videos and moments that my friends and family share! Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • I agree. I might even be one of the people who balks at the idea that Snapchat as working towards creating meaningful connections! Even though I enjoy using it to connect with my family and friends! Perhaps this mentality is the result of an ingrained phenomenon of social media being a platform of disconnection and that even though we enjoy using the app to connect, it seems bizarre that a social media site could be the source of meaningful relationship building. Social media is certainly a double edged sword — lots to think about!

  3. Great review. I’m looking at Snapchat too and I think it’s my favourite app that I’m using. I like sending the silly pictures of myself or my daughter to close friends without it being a permanent part of my Facebook timeline. I’m also curious about the addictive nature of apps and if it is being used well by young people today.

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