Social media apps continually develop new features to get more people on board with their app. Everyone wants to be the #1 social media app, right? As of February, 2017, statistics show that 79% of teens and young adults favor Snapchat (statista.com). Snapchat allows a person to share a picture or video that “magically” disappears 24 hours after posting, although, as we know, once something is posted online it never fully disappears.
A few weeks ago, Snapchat released a new feature called Snap Map. This feature allows a person to share their current geographical location with other Snapchatters on their contacts list. Snapchat’s ad can be seen here. The new feature lets you share your location in real time. Snap Map is great (so says Snapchat) because, besides checking in and sharing what fun things you’re doing at a specific location, it allows you to see what events are happening near you if you are looking for something to do.
When first using this feature, you have options: make your location visible to all friends, a select group of friends or “ghost mode.” The last option means your location can only be seen by you on the snap map.
Snap Map might sound great to teens: “Hey, how cool is it that I get to see where my friends are at this very moment?” but it raises serious concerns about privacy, especially for kids. The concern is that Snap Map enables every time Snapchat is opened. Open the app and your location pops up on the Snap Map telling others your exact location. This happens whether or not you post anything. The problem is not so much with friends knowing where you are. It’s the ability for others to be able to find out as well, people to whom you don’t want to broadcast your location, that poses the problem. If you open Snapchat at home and have Snap Map enabled, then anyone on your friends list can see where you live.
TheVerge.com contacted a Snapchat representative to get clarification about Snap Map. Here are some things you need to know that were not clear from the introduction video:
• Your location is updated every time the app is opened, if you choose to share your location on the map, not just when you send out a Snap.
• If a person chooses to share their location with all of their friends, periodically the app will remind them and ask if they want the option to remain.
• Only mutual friends can see each other on the Map.
• The precise location of a user will delete after a short period of time. (This period of time was not specified.) Some more general location data may be retained a little longer (this time was also not specified).
• If you tap on your friend, you will see the last location where they opened Snapchat, as well as find out when they last updated their location (i.e., 1 hour ago, 2 hours ago).
• If the app is not opened within 8 hours, the previous location will disappear from the map.
If you or your child have already enabled Snap Map and want to change from friends to ghost mode simply click in the upper right corner of the Snap Map screen, which is the settings gear and select ghost mode.
So, what does all this mean for parents?
Communicating with your kids about the media and social media they use is essential. Perhaps you feel a little nervous about Snap Map. I do. Do your teens use Snapchat on a regular basis? (FYI, the minimum age to legally use Snapchat is 13). If so, maybe it’s time to sit down and have a conversation with them. Ask them if they enabled the Snap Map. How do they use it? What are their thoughts about the new feature? Talk to them about what enabling the feature actually means and why it would be best to leave it in ghost mode. Together with your kids, set some rules about when the Snap Map can be taken out of ghost mode and who, specifically, is included in the select group of friends allowed to see the location.
Explain why it is important to be careful about who you share your location with because it can allow people to build a picture of where you live, the school you go to and where you spend your time. If parents and teens make decisions together about Snap Map and Snapchat or any other social media app, the kids will be much less likely to feel resentful for not being “allowed” to do something another kid might be doing.
Our children are precious gifts from God and we want to protect them. Communicating with them about Snap Map and social media only opens the door to more and deeper communication. It shows your children that communication about important things is encouraged in your family and that communication is a two-way street. Happy Snapping!