Post it on the internet and it is forever. It’s been a refrain for parents, teachers and those working with young people for years. One of the mainstays of internet safety is to impress on young people the permanency of anything posted on the internet. Any comment, picture or video posted on the web can be taken and shared; it can follow you forever. For the most part, youth have learned to be savvy. I still have to have the occasional conversation with one of my youth about the wisdom of posting this photo or that status update. Yet, the majority of teens today understand that social networking and the way they use it to define themselves is not just for now but far into the future.
Now, that pillar of internet safety has a crack forming, or so it might seem. The new app SnapChat is designed to provide a communication tool where the pictures sent disappear as soon as it is viewed. SnapChat allows the user to take pictures, write or doodle on those pictures, then send them to friends. What makes it unique is that the sender sets a time limit for the viewer to see that picture. The viewer then has 10 seconds or less from the time they touch the picture to the time the picture is deleted. Once time is up, neither the sender nor the viewer can see the picture again.
This app is taking the teenage world by storm. At the time this was written, SnapChat was the fourth most popular app in the iTunes store. It is used over 30 million times a day. Now, as you can guess, this app isn’t foolproof. The sender can save the picture to their camera if they choose. The viewer can’t save the picture directly from the app, but a screen capture can allow them to save it before it deletes. The SnapChat app says it will alert you if someone does screen capture your photo, but at that point, there may be very little you or anyone else can do to delete the image. There are now an increasing number of hacks on the internet that will give instructions on how to bypass the screen capture alert as well.
SnapChat has become a place where teens, and sometimes adults, feel they can send photos and comments without repercussion. No parent can find the picture later. No boyfriend or girlfriend can send the picture to friends. No friends can post it to social networks. This illusion of freedom has led many to call this the sexting app, and this may not be a disingenuous moniker. SnapChat seems to be designed to give teens permission to photograph themselves and others in ways they have long ago learned not to post to Facebook, Twitter or texting. This freedom is a huge temptation for sin.
I would not suggest that every teen who uses SnapChat is using it to send sexual or otherwise inappropriate pictures. I was surprised that a group of my students had the app on their phone but they were equally surprised to hear my objections. They honestly hadn’t even considered using it for anything other than sending benign pictures to friends. However, I do think it is a case where temptation can lead down a dangerous path. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). If this app is a temptation to sin then they need to get rid of it, and we must be vigilant to encourage them to resist the temptation.
What we need to impress on our students is that even if the picture is deleted, what they did in the picture is not. “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). God knows all. He will bring all things from darkness to light, regardless of the status of the picture. Deleting the pictures does not delete the need for repentance and forgiveness. Thanks be to God that love and grace flow freely to us and to our youth in our sin and brokenness. Even more than the internet, His love is forever.