Snapchat: This Message Will (Maybe) Self-Destruct

The Internet has arguably affected our culture more than any other technological development of the last 20 years. It has facilitated near-instant communication around the globe, beginning with email and eventually expanding into photos and video as well. And while these developments have certainly allowed us to become more connected than ever before, they are not without their hazards, notes Gizmodo. Up until now, users have had to adhere to a certain level of decorum in cyberspace, lest some of their messages, images and videos "go viral" and are viewed by people they were never intended to reach. The downfall of Congressman Anthony Weiner's sexcapades clearly illustrates the pitfalls of posting "sensitive" photos of oneself a little too freely and liberally.

A Sexting Safety Mechanism?

Enter Snapchat, the smartphone app created with the goal of reducing or eliminating such hazards. Snapchat is an image and video messaging service that allows the user to send a photo or short video with a built-in self-destruct mechanism. The sender simply sets the timer to the amount of viewing time they wish the receiver to have (up to 10 seconds), and they can rest assured that the photo will "disappear" shortly after the recipient has viewed it. Yes, it's all a bit "Mission: Impossible," but if Congressman Weiner had made use of such technology, it's possible he would still be in office today.

However, the advent of such features opens up a whole series of questions about the social and moral implications of such a tool; is it really a good thing for people to be able to send out any sort of image they wish (disturbing, gory, sexually explicit, or an outright fabrication to any user they are in contact with, without consequences? Is the Snapchat app promoting irresponsible and even reckless behavior online?

Far From Foolproof

Most people would probably answer affirmatively, save for one other facet of the story: it turns out Snapchat actually isn't as foolproof as users have hoped. In theory, each photo and video sent via Snapchat will disappear forever shortly after it has been opened and viewed. Except for when it doesn't.

It has come to light that it is possible to preserve a Snapchat image; in fact, people seem to be doing so with increasing frequency. By making use of a smartphone's screen shot feature, a quick user can make a copy of any image sent via Snapchat before it disappears into the ether. The website points out that it only takes a second to snap a screen shot, thereby preserving an image forever. What's more, recent upgrades to smartphone operating systems have rendered Snapchat's system for notifying when a screen shot capture occurs all but ineffective.

So while Snapchat certainly has the potential to be the gateway for scores of sensitive and private images being burned into the psyches of unsuspecting recipients without repercussions, for now, that is not entirely the case. While the risks of screen shot capture are probably not deterring all Snapchat users from circulating some pretty scary stuff, the risk of the consequences is likely causing many users to think twice before pressing send.

More than ever before, the Internet has become a gateway for sharing and connecting with people. Let's hope that some motivation remains to "share responsibility."