Popular app for teens makes texts, photos disappear causing sexting concerns

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 2012 10:10 p.m. MST

Snapchat is an app on iPhone and Android that appears to be growing more popular across the country and among Utah teens. Some are concerned it might be a vehicle for sexting.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Most teens use it for fun and games, to make "ugly faces" and interact in a way they never could before on social media.

Others — when nobody is looking — snap a revealing or even naked picture and send it, knowing it will be gone and, hopefully, out of view in seconds.

Such is life on Snapchat, an app on iPhone and Android that appears to be growing more popular across the country and among Utah teens. It allows users to snap a picture, send it to others and assign when the picture expires, or is no longer viewable. A picture can be viewed from one second to 10 seconds.

The app is currently the fourth-most popular for iPhone, and a group of students at one high school said they believe as many as 70 percent of their classmates have it on their smartphones.

"I think it's more fun than texting because you get a picture with it – you can kind of tell the emotion with the text," Syracuse High School junior Adam Johnson said.

The student view

"Me and my sister just use it to send ugly pictures," junior Shayla Franklin said. "I just think it's so fun."

The students said their parents know about their Snapchat use, and they never have used it deviously — though they acknowledge others probably do. A brief search on Twitter using the term "Snapchat" revealed a number of teens in the Salt Lake City area who appeared to be looking to "sext" with the app.

"Live a little & sext me over snap chat," one locally generated tweet read.

"You can flash people with Snapchat's timer thing," a third observed.

The potential for "sexting" and the consequences are not lost on law enforcement and prosecutors.

"The danger is, nothing lasts for a few seconds — it could last forever," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The app's timer can easily be defeated with a frame grab, though the app does notify the sender if a screenshot is taken. Murphy said somebody could take advantage of the app in a more sophisticated manner.

"Really, you could take a second camera, take a picture of it, that person could have that image and then distribute it to millions of people worldwide in a matter of seconds," Murphy said. "So I think it's absolute foolishness."

Educators watching

School districts are watching for misuse of the app — along with all other new technologies.

"It would be silly to say that it's not happening," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley. "As far as it becoming a prevailing problem at this time, it's not something that we're noticing."

Horsley acknowledged only so much takes place during school hours, and while personal responsibility is preached on a daily basis in classrooms, parents have responsibility for ensuring their children are not abusing technology.

Veronica Johnson, a parent who has two Syracuse High students on Snapchat — including Adam Johnson — said the key is for parents to keep an open dialogue with their children about their social media use.

"It's not going to be different than anything else that they have — texting, Facebook," she said. "They know the rules."

Tyler Olpin, another junior at Syracuse, was skeptical of the app's use for sexting.

"I'm sure it happens, but you don't have to use the app to do it," Olpin said.

Snapchat Inc., did not respond to attempts for comment. But in a May interview with website TechCrunch, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel dismissed the idea that the app is suited for sexting.

"I'm not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be," Spiegel said.

Spiegel told TechCrunch the application was designed to make online communication "more human and natural" and not permanent.

Email: aadams@desnews.com

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