How Young People are Really Using Snapchat

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Want to know what kind of pictures young people are really sharing on Snapchat? Just ask them.

A couple months ago, my friend told me about a new photo sharing app called Snapchat. I downloaded it, added my friend, and soon I got a notification that I had received my first Snapchat. I opened it up, and saw my friend, Shae, giving me the McKayla Maroney “not impressed” look. Then the photo vanished.

That’s what Snapchat is all about: sending silly pictures that, unlike Instagram and Facebook, don’t try to impress your friends. And then those pictures disappear.

When I started researching the app for this story, most of the news reports kept saying that Snapchat was all about teens sexting. But none of my friends used it for that. So I wondered, what information are all those scandalized newscasters basing their reporting on? It turns out they may have been responding to fear more than actual data.

An online poll by Survata interviewed 5,475 people between the ages of 18 to 29 at the beginning of the year, including 715 Snapchat users. Among them only 13% admitted to using the app to sext. Survata also found out that adults from 23 to 29 use Snapchat to sext more than young adults 18 to 22. This poll contradicts the sensational stories about the Snapchat sexting epidemic. It tells us that few Snapchat users are sexting on the app, and those who do tend to be older.

So what is the appeal of Snapchat? I decided to make my own survey and find out. I didn’t ask hundreds like the online poll, but I was able to survey 26 of my high school peers to find out how they really use Snapchat.

First I asked everyone to pick two adjectives to describe Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. The words most often used to describe Snapchat were “ugly” and “funny.” Facebook was also called “funny” but some other key words that my classmates used to describe it were “college related,” “informative” and “serious.” The number one word associated with Instagram was “cute.”

I found out that almost all of my peers who took the survey took pictures on Snapchat in the classroom and their bedrooms. One thing surprised me: 7 out of 26 of my classmates said that they have 1 or 2 friends on Snapchat who are adults. My mom is already following me on Instagram and Facebook. My Snapchat is a no-adult zone (unless you are a really cool adult).

In my research, I was able to confirm that my peers think Facebook is funny but serious, Instagram is a beauty pageant, and Snapchat is where peers get ugly in their classrooms and other places. In my world, teens aren’t using Snapchat to sext that often. The more common risky behavior teens are engaging in is paying more attention to their Snapchat in class than the chemistry teacher.

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