You would think that an app with a cute looking ghost for its logo would be pretty harmless, no? That’s not necessarily the case with Snapchat, a free mobile app that allows users to share images or videos that disappear (supposedly) after a few seconds.

Snapchat was created in 2011 by a couple of entrepreneurial Stanford students for the purpose of making it safe to send silly photos to others without the long term consequences.  Considering the fact that anything you say online can follow you forever – the #1 lesson we should be teaching students about digital footprints and social media – it’s questionable that Snapchat content 100% “disappears.”

Once you load the Snapchat app and login, you can take a photo, edit it, add a caption or other “doodles.” Then you select the friends to send the photo to and set a timer from 1 to 10 seconds. Once the photo message is sent, the receiver has the time set by the timer to look at the photo before the message “self-destructs.”

While the photo message disappears from the phone after a few seconds, it does not prevent the receiver from snapping a screenshot of the photo while it is live. If a receiver takes a screenshot of the photo in Snapchat, the sender is notified, but that may not be enough to prevent the photo from being shared later with others.

In addition, if a receiver knows that a message is coming, he or she could take a photo of the screen with another phone or digital camera and the sender would never know that their supposedly “evaporating” photo would be alive and well on another device.

Snapchat’s privacy policy explicitly states that there’s no guarantee your data will always be deleted. “Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.”

Users can receive images in Snapchat from anyone who knows their usernames, so teens using Snapchat will need to be careful not to share their usernames in public forums.

As always, regardless of the program or app, the best advice to all children is to “think before clicking submit.”

Age Requirements: Snapchat is not intended for children under the age of 13. Minors ages 13-17 should have permission from a parent or legal guardian before using Snapchat. Children under the age of 13 are only permitted to access a special version of Snapchat, called “Snapkidz,” which they are automatically directed to upon sign up. Snapkidz allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but not send them to other users. Snaps taken with Snapkidz can be saved locally on the device.

Below are links to resources for parents. A user-guide provided by Snapchat and a guide to Snapchat created by Connect Safely, a website with social-media and mobile safety tips for teens and parents.

Snapchat  – Learning the Basics (Source: Snapchat)
Parent’s Guide to Snapchat (Source: Connect Safely)
How to Report Abuse on Snapchat – Note: You must have a Snapchat account  (Source: Snapchat)
What is Snapchat? (Common Sense Media)
Snapchat Infographic (Source:
Please visit the parent section’s social media 101 page of the EGUSD Digital Citizenship website to learn more about other popular apps teens are using.