Well, I’ve done it! Just like droves of teens, I have created a Snapchat account in an attempt to understand the appeal, and so far, it’s been fun.
I remember first hearing about Snapchat a few years ago. People were saying that it was dangerous for teens to use a platform where their pictures and information disappeared. It would allow teens to share nude pictures or bully peers without a trace of evidence left behind. Furthermore, parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to monitor their child’s activity. Then, there came the concern that snaps could actually be saved by taking screenshots of them and children would then be held accountable for their actions in very permanent ways. Both of these parental concerns come from fear of the unknown, and also out of genuine care for their children’s safety.
However, rather than fearing the technology, which is always changing and presenting new challenges, parents and teachers should invest in teaching children about digital citizenship. Young adults need the skills to make responsible decisions online, regardless of the platform. A 2008 study conducted by Sabina, Wolak, and Finkelhor states that as many as 93% of boys and 62% of girls see porn before that age of 18, well before Snapchat was released in 2011. It’s easy to blame the unknown for the trouble that teens get into online, but consumers also have a responsibility for how they use apps and services. In fact, in a way teens transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat, could actually be a sign of teens’ growing responsibility for choosing the appropriate time and place to share personal information.
So exactly how much responsibility for user safety lies with providers, and how much with users?
Right now, Kik, a free messaging service in which the users remain anonymous, is under scrutiny, since a young girl was kidnapped and murdered after meeting up with a fellow anonymous Kik user. Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, says that “Kik is not designed to create a community of bad behavior, but there does tend to be bad behavior on anonymous apps.” So, is Kik responsible for knowingly providing a dangerous platform for people to meet, or are users responsible for their safety when using the service?
Apple’s “backdoor” encryption fight against the FBI and US government is an example of a company that is maintaining its responsibility to protect the safety of its users. They fear that the technology they would design to allow the FBI to access private information on the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, would be used wrongfully in the future. Companies like Google, WhatsApp and Mozilla have expressed similar concerns. So, is Apple responsible for knowingly developing a dangerous technology, or are citizens responsible for not misusing the technology?
These are the kinds of questions that we need discuss with our children and students. Let’s make digital citizenship a priority so that kids can continue to connect and learn safely.