Parents don't 'get' Snapchat. It's forever known as a social media app for teenagers where they share photos and quick videos with friends and doodling artwork or adding special effects to the photos.
Most parents know very little about it but they've heard enough to make them feel uncomfortable this week. Snapchat's latest update for the iPhone includes a new feature called Snap Maps. It places your friends location on a map which shows where they are and in some cases what they're doing. In order to see the map a user only needs to open the app and squeeze their fingers on the screen.
Snapchat's idea with Snap Map is to make it easier for friends to find out what other friends are doing and whether they're near them. It encourages friends to get together in real life.
Police departments and many parents don't see it that way. They see Snap Maps as a way that strangers can find where young people are and what they're doing. They might even be able to find out where a Snapchatter lives and whether their home. And...what they look like!
Yeah, creepy. Even my 18 year old daughter who uses Snapchat more than any other network app to connect with friends told me she thought Snap Map is too creepy.
I spoke with someone at Snapchat who explained why Snap Map is getting a bad rap in the media. Here's Snapchat's official statement:
“The safety of our community is very important to us and we want to make sure that all Snapchatters, parents and educators have accurate information about how the Snap Map works. With Snap Map, location-sharing is off by default for all users and is completely optional. Snapchatters can choose exactly who they want to share their location with, if at all, and can change that setting at any time. It’s also not possible to share your location with someone who isn’t already your friend on Snapchat, and the majority of interactions on Snapchat take place between close friends.”
I get that. It makes sense and I were a hip teenager or in my 20s I might like Snap Map, but as a dad to a teenager, I'm not a fan. Here's why:
Just like moms and dads do on Facebook, teenagers will often accept a Snapchat friend request from someone they don't know very well. While Snapmap only shares location between friends, it can be creepy and even dangerous for teenagers who accept friend requests on Snapchat from people they just met at a party or at the beach.
Secondly, it's way too easy for someone too young to be on Snapchat. Like other social media apps the only 'proof' one has to give that they're over 13 is to enter a birthdate. If you think every 12 year old is incapable of fibbing their age to use an app, you've forgotten what it's like to be 12.
So imagine one of those pre-teens or even younger accepting a stranger's request to be friends on Snapchat.
Here's what parents need to know, especially parents of young kids with smartphones:
Explain to them the importance of knowing who their friends are, on Snapchat and anywhere online. Strangers will use many tactics to become friends with young kids and with Snapchat's Snap Map, it makes this kind of thing dangerous.
Download all of the apps your kids are using. Request or require that they accept your friend request. Warning though: sneaky kids will get two profile accounts, one you can see and one you can't.
Look closely at app updates. When apps are updated they frequently add features such as Snapchat's Snap Map. Look at the update information to see what's being added to the app.
Turn on Ghost Mode in Snapchat and explain to them why this is important. "Ghost Mode" keeps their location private and off the Snap Map. It's the default setting but can easily be changed with a toggle.
Snapchat's Snap Map is a good feature for people on the go and looking for something to do with a friend. For young teens and pre-teens, it can be dangerous if they don't know who their friends are.
That's true for most social media apps as well.