Sunday, August 30, 2015

Snapchat isn't as safe as kids think it is

I first heard of the mobile app called Snapchat a few years ago when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) graciously sent members of its Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit to my place of employment to speak about child safety on the Internet.

Snapchat is an online messaging app that allows users to share "moments" by sending photos and brief videos (annotated with the sender's comments) to one or more recipients. The unique feature of Snapchat is that the image sent is deleted within 10 seconds of being viewed. Unfortunately, this function gives kids the illusion that their image cannot be recorded, saved, and shared with others.

That's where they are wrong. The old adage of "Once it's on the Internet, it's there forever," rings true even with an app that claims to dispose of images instantaneously. Most computing devices—cell phones, tablets, laptop computers and desktops—have the ability to save an image that is displayed on screen by creating a screen shot of it, often with the simple press of the Prt Sc (print screen) key on the keyboard, or other shortcut, depending upon the operating system. That screen shot can be quickly saved to a file, stored and re-shared publicly and privately.

Snapchat is often referred to as "the sexting app." To "sext" is to send sexually explicit photo images or text messages via mobile device. Snapchat provides uninformed children with a seemingly safe way to sext. The average kid thinks this is harmless, until an illicit selfie snapped in his/her bedroom is revealed to, say, all the kids at school. Or, worse, the image is maliciously posted publicly on FaceBook, YouTube, or other social media site.

To compound things, it's doubtful that most children are aware that any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (under 18 years of age) is a felony under Title 18 of the United States Code. For first time convicted offenders, this will land them 15-30 years in Federal prison. If you think your teenager is immune from prosecution or other legal consequences, read this horror story on CNN: 'Sexting' lands teen on sex offender list. What kind of life does that teenager have to look forward to, forever branded?

For more information about the law, see the Citizen's Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Pornography on the Department of Justice web site.

For more information about Snapchat, simply Google the phrase "dangers of snapchat," or read A Parent's Guide to Snapchat by ConnectSafely.

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