Chat apps: with new features be careful about the information you inadvertently share

Snapchat is one of those things that has caused a whole generation to throw up their hands, shake their head, and mumble “kids these days”.  It’s enigmatic. Even some of the most avid users of social media will declare, “I have no idea about Snapchat”.  It’s a platform embraced by children and teenagers and perhaps the fact it has been largely ignored by an older generation is a part of its appeal.

Snapchat is the most frequently accessed social media site (on average 42 visits weekly by each user) and the fastest growing (40 percent of social media users up from 22 percent since 2016). But recent changes to the platform, some publicised, and some not could affect not only children and teenagers, but also businesses, including schools and universities. So it’s important understanding Snapchat is not left to Generation Z.

A new feature, Snapmap, has been widely reported by the media, and rightly so. This opt-in feature allows users to see their friends’ locations on a map. A concerning update for parents and children alike. An incident earlier this year, where a Sydney-based girl was lured to America by a man she met on Snapchat, was a scary example of the reality that children and teenagers befriend people they do not know.

Another, less publicised change, is the now searchable feature, Our Stories.

The Our Story feature was released a few years ago, exclusive to large international events where users could submit content to a collective ‘story’ easily viewed by all users. Recently, Snapchat has rolled out Our Stories across millions of locations around the world, from the Harbour Bridge to your local pub, school and neighbourhood. Our Stories is now searchable by any user, on demand, by location, event and content. Once an image or video is submitted, via the Our Story button, users don’t know where or when that image could reappear and, in many cases, how to delete it.

The implications are significant, particularly for students submitting content from schools and universities. Stories submitted from within boarding houses or colleges, during school events such as swimming carnivals or formals, and in the classroom, present risk to the safety and welfare of both students and teachers. It also presents challenges for the institution, both as a reputational risk and as a duty of care issue. As the changes have been incrementally rolled out, many users are unsure of the new functionalities and even less aware of possible implications. Similarly, schools and universities are frequently not aware there is a searchable location, which can be viewed publicly, where students can and are submitting content.

For many institutions, traditional social media monitoring has become an important part of their duty of care; being aware of student activity and third-party commentary is important. As Snapchat has now become an open network this is a new security and safety challenge.

It is imperative for teachers, parents, school boards and principals to stay up-to-date, understand how, when and where these apps are used and to act responsibly for the safety of students and the integrity of their school.

There are available risk controls so lack of awareness or understanding is not an excuse.


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