Recently, Snapchat, a picture/video messaging service, silently released an update to its popular iPhone app. Along with the usual bugfixes and improvements was a peculiar change to the way contacts work. Now when a user clicks on a contact in his/her address book, or looks at a users landing page online, a leader board is displayed showing that users “best friends”.
This “feature” exposes our closest friends, confidants and, most terrifyingly, our lovers. We hide secrets with those connections: a forbidden friend, a secret crush, and even an extramarital affair. In the past, these connections have been transient, or at least appeared to us as so, but now with them visible we are vulnerable to others seeing who we truly are.
The appeal of Snapchat comes from the apparent ephemerality of the service. It is a guilty pleasure where we can make weird faces, draw on them, and expose ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t if that information were retained. (Some even take this one step farther, using it as the perfect platform for sexting). Recently, speculation on how snaps are deleted, prompted Snapchat to explain their process, calming users by further emphasizing the fleetingness of the messages.
However, just making sure the messages are deleted is not enough. After the messages themselves, the people we talk to is one of our tightest guarded secrets. We get incredibly offending when someone reads our text messages, but even if they never see the messages themselves we are still embarrassed the second they see who we are talking to. More than anything else, the people we communicate with define who were are. A timeless phrase sums it up beautifully, “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Now, with Snapchat, that information is no longer solely possessed by us, but is out there for the whole world to see. To be perfectly honest, we are afraid of what someone else might discover about us that we are hiding.
We would be mortified if people could see our guilty pleasure browsing patterns on Facebook. It would be a public relations nightmare if this were to ever occur and Facebook makes it extremely clear that they never give away this information. Snapchat is performing as egregious of a sin and are playing fast and loose with our data a little too far.
I don’t know what will happen when more users discover this on Snapchat, but I hope that it will be fixed soon.