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Snapchat: Ephemeral or Eternal? – Sophie Kay

screenshot_2014-04-16-12-37-42-568x287The ghostly guise of Snapchat, as the ephemeral app, where photos magically disappear within a maximum of ten seconds, is somewhat ironic. Why? The very simple answer is: photos and videos posted onto Snapchat, are not immune to the eternal nature of social media, akin to any content, in whatever form that is posted onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and The list goes on.

Unsurprisingly, users of Snapchat are induced into thinking that it is safe to send photos and videos, which are often explicit and embarrassing, since they will self-destruct. This is a widely held misunderstanding. The reality is that the image or video can be retained by the receiver in a variety of ways, with ease, and with little expense, if any.

  • First, the receiver can take a screenshot of the photo. In this scenario, Snapchat will notify the sender. However, this may be too late to mitigate the potential damage of the receiver sharing the photo with others, without the sender’s consent, and often knowledge.
  • Secondly, where a well-prepared receiver knows the image is going to be sent, they can photograph the screen displaying the image with a digital camera, without the sender’s knowledge. This is something we have seen happen to clients. The quality of digital cameras nowadays means that a photograph of a screen is compelling enough.
  • Thirdly, the receiver can use a free App, namely Save my Snap, Phantom for Snapchat, and Casper to save the photo or video, without the sender being notified. These Apps pose the most serious risks; they facilitate mass invasions of privacy, misuses of private information, and breaches of copyright.

The fundamental issue is that users send content, which they would not usually send if they knew that its visibility would be permanent. This misconception extends to Snapchat’s messaging feature. The danger, is that users may write messages which contain private information, or even silly or ill-thought out language, and these messages are then saved without their knowledge or consent – despite the original message disappearing after a predetermined time.

Requests for explicit photos is a prime example. These requests are often accepted (and such images are subsequently sent), even from and to strangers, along with users who know each other. The so-called Snappening, where tens of thousands of nude images and videos of users using Snapchat were obtained by a third party app who uploaded them online highlights this. Many of these images were of teenagers.

Clearly, there is a child protection element which is deserving of consideration. Snapchat’s “Terms of Use” provide that thirteen is the lower age limit to create a Snapchat account though anecdotally (from working with young sportsmen) we can say that accounts are often unlawfully opened by children under thirteen without parental permission.

What bites, is that Snapchat has sadly become a platform for images which are essentially child pornography to be shared. This is illegal: it is a criminal offence to take, possess, show, distribute or advertise indecent images of underage children.

Users have reportedly attempted to cover their modesty by using emoticons or captions. A modern day version of this, say:


However, the nefarious third party App developers have found a way to remove these emoticons and captions. Fig leaves, it would seem, are still not a failsafe option to hide blushes.

Nude images which were uploaded online of Jennifer Lawrence and various other celebrities who were hacked in 2014 in the so-called Fappening (the predecessor to The Snapening), also illustrates that couples who send each other sexual images are similarly at risk of privacy breaches.

Hacking is not the only danger of sending intimate images on Snapchat. The abuse of trust that is revenge pornography has sadly infiltrated Snapchat. All too frequently, explicit images sent on Snapchat, are surreptitiously uploaded onto revenge pornography websites by vengeful former partners. Not only is this a custodial criminal offence, but it is also a civil offence. Revenge pornography occasions a number of civil claims for damages, including the misuse of private of information, breach of confidence, copyright infringement and harassment. Besides, from an extra-legal perspective, revenge pornography victims suffer extreme distress and humiliation, some contemplating, or even committing suicide.

On the subject of harassment, many prolific users of Snapchat, particularly those in the public eye, add strangers as their “friends” in order to increase their following. The caveat with this craze is this: anyone can see exactly where you are, when you are there, and who you are with, as soon as the image or video is posted. To the extent that some snapchat “stories” are becoming a quasi-live reality show. This may have advantages for increasing the sender’s popularity, but it poses serious risks to their security and wellbeing. Stalkers and harassers, who have voluntarily been added by the sender to their “friend list”, can follow every post by the sender, which essentially acts as a live location update, and subsequently stalk and harass the sender.

In our experience, in working with sportsmen and women aged 21 and under, Snapchat use is growing. Almost 100% of the younger generation are using the App to communicate and express themselves.

From the revenge and child pornography element, to its almost Orwellian effect, Snapchat’s lure as the ephemeral app is not quite as it seems. An embarrassing image or video can easily end up in the wrong hands, whether that is your employer, family or even a stranger. Before posting an image, video, or message onto Snapchat, it is important to remember that just because it evaporates after a few seconds, that does not mean that it has vanished for all eternity.

This post originally appeared on the Himsworth Legal blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.


  1. daveyone1

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

  2. Marie K.

    The Snappening was a very bad event. People should be careful when using Snapchat!

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