Snapchat should terrify parents, but not just because kids can exchange rapidly vanishing photos over an app that seems a little too well-suited for sexting. Instead, parents should gasp at the “news” Snapchat posts on its Discover page every day.
My 13-year-old sister, a prolific Snapchatter, probably glanced at a few of these headlines as she rode the bus to school this morning: “Please Don’t Put This Down There”; “Is This the Most Dangerous Way to Vape”; “These Are the Sexiest Movies of All Time”; “How to Treat Camgirls, According to Camgirls.”
According to a Common Sense Media study CNN reported on last week, 42 percent of young kids have their own cellphones, and they spend almost 50 minutes looking at them every day. By entering a birth date earlier than 2004, anyone over the wise age of 13 can download Snapchat, and they do: 23 percent of Snapchat users are aged 13-18, according to a 2017 surveypublished by Mediakix.
Kids use their phones. Kids use Snapchat. Kids will venture to these articles as they explore the app.
Snapchat’s Dangers Aren’t Just Sexting
Snapchat has dedicated an entire page to glorified advertisements posed as news and lifestyle articles. This multimedia mayhem often contains graphic, R-rated content, from copy that drops the f-bomb every three words to interactive quizzes that recommend sex toys based on your zodiac sign.
The cringe-worthy clickbait grabs the gaze of users flicking through articles Snapchat features from publications like BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and Self. The dirtier stories are usually accompanied by photos of bare bums, near nip slips, and silhouettes of naked women. Vice, for example, recently shared these two thought-provoking articles with its Snapchat audience: “Why We Need to Challenge the Culture of Monogamy” and “We Asked People If Sexting Really Counts as Cheating.”
Kiddos probably spend most of their time on the application adorning their 10-second selfies with digital decor like glittering flower crowns and virtually imposed puppy dog ears. But school bus rides bore anyone enough to abandon funny facial alterations and check out the interactive stories only a page away.
How Likely Is That Click, and Then Its Repeat?
Not everything on the Discover page ranks so high on the scale of jaw-dropping wickedness as “What You Need to Know Before You Get A Genital Piercing” and “I Went To A Seance & This Is What Happened.” Refinery29 once featured an article that taught longhaired readers how to braid their manes without a hair tie. And Dodo posts about 12 articles every single day that just talk about cute animals — “Rescued Squirrel Recovers From Injury In Tiny Leopard Print Cast.”
So it’s not all bad. Even the Wall Street Journal has a swatch on the Discover page. But will a 13-year-old kid click on the story about flourishing Chinese markets? No. Her curiosity will be caught by the headlines promoting pieces that might inform her about the mysteries of sex or the virtues of pop-culture veneration.
Vigilant parents might notice the virtual debauchery at their little ones’ fingertips and research the app before they hit the delete button. Snapchat’s website currently hosts a tab titled “Safety Center” under which it keeps a lists of links to websites and guides that prepare users of any age to use their app with wisdom. Snapchat has also produced a downloadable document to inform concerned adults about their app: “A Parent’s Guide to Snapchat.”
In this guide, the authors spend more than 10 pages detailing and downplaying the risks of children sending disappearing photos to each other. They conclude with a few suggestions for parents and teachers as they approach appropriate social media use with their children and students. Out of this entire guide, Snapchat doles out two pathetic sentences about the Discover page: “Discover is a way for Snapchatters to explore channels from established publishers who produce their own content every day. The Discover screen in Snapchat also includes a selection of the day’s Stories.”
To understand just how drastically Snapchat endangers their children, parents need to log on, swipe to the Discover page, and see the madness for themselves. Snapchat and their kids won’t tell them, but they have to comprehend the risks before their kids equate Cosmopolitan and its ilk with benevolent preachers of truth.