Everything You Need to Know About Snapchat

Do your kids use Snapchat, but you're not quite sure what it is? Tech Talker pulled together a quick and dirty guide for the social media app.

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #240

Many of you have probably heard of Snapchat. The tool has been around since 2011, though it was originally named "Pictaboo," and was created to send pictures or videos that disappear. I first heard of it when my little cousin was told she couldn’t have a Facebook, so she said “That’s OK. I have Snapchat instead!” In 2020, it was the seventh most downloaded app in the world. 

Snapchat has technically been around since 2011, it didn’t start gaining momentum until 2013. Today I’m just going to give you the basics of how it works and why it’s used. If you're a parent, your kids are likely using Snapchat, and it’s imperative that you understand it and how it works.

How does Snapchat work?

Let's say I have Snapchat on my phone. Through the app, I take a picture or video of my cat snoozing on my bed. I then have two options. I can either share that picture with “my story,” which is kind of like a newsfeed where my followers can view it for up to 24 hours.

The other option is I can send it to individual people so that I only share the picture of my cat with, for example, my wife and a few of my best friends. If I send them a picture or video individually though, they can only view it once. (Though there are some hacks to replay a video, like the feature allowing you to replay one snapchat a day!)

Something that makes Snapchat fun are the filters. When you think filter, you usually think of black and white, sepia, lo-fi, or those other common ones in photo editing apps. Snapchat filters are a whole other ball game, though. If I take a video of me singing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” through Snapchat, I can add a filter that makes it slow motion, double speed, or rewind (plays the video backward). There are also Geolocation filters that put an image over the picture that will show your town or wherever you are located. Geolocation uses your phone's location in order to determine what filters are available to you. This is fun when traveling, or if there is a sponsored filter somewhere.

By far the most fun filters are the ones that use face detection technology. There are a ton of different filters, but some of the most popular are ones that morph the image of your face into an animal, cute deer, or even give you a flower crown. Each day the filters change so you never know what will be available. You can also put text on your photos/video if you want to write something.

Now let’s talk about why people love Snapchat. With Facebook and Instagram, pictures and videos get posted and exist on the internet for an unlimited duration. This is dangerous because old pictures can come back to haunt you in job interviews or other professional settings. Sometimes potential employers or parents can access photos that younger people may not want them to see. This is especially risky for teenagers, where their phones can be taken by parents and searched.

With Snapchat’s temporary photos and videos, users don’t have to worry about being tagged in anything or even having their pictures shared with people they don’t want them shared with. The disappearing media allows a freedom on social media that wasn’t there before. Or so people think.

Do Snapchat videos and photos really disappear?

The part that I think is interesting about Snapchat is that users believe that their pictures are entirely private. The same warning should apply to all social media accounts, and Snapchat is not an outlier.

If you don’t want a picture on the internet, then don’t post it.

Snapchat is still susceptible to having your pictures saved forever, even when you don't want them to be.

The people who receive the picture could easily screenshot it or take a picture with another phone. 

The people who receive the picture could easily screenshot it or take a picture with another phone. If my friend wanted to take a screenshot of the picture I sent of my cat, they could, but I would be notified that it was taken. There are even third party apps and hacks available that will allow users to save copies of everything they see on Snapchat. This could be terrible if someone was under the impression their pictures and videos would be destroyed after they were sent.

And to go even further: all those selfies from high school students, flower crown pics, scandalous and possibly incriminating photos that users think disappear forever are actually still around. The average joe wouldn’t be able to access them, but given the right circumstances, law enforcement could recover them from devices. This is because devices will often store the pictures for some time on the device itself.

Snapchat is fun to use, but it also should be used with the same caution that other social media accounts are used with! This means you shouldn’t treat it as a secure messaging service or as a way to keep private photos private. It could definitely come back to bite you in the end! If you’re a parent, this is a great conversation to have with your child. It also wouldn’t hurt to download the app yourself and follow your child's public ‘story’ so you can see what they are showing to the internet!

Snapchat also has a feature to have a "private" story that only a select few followers can view. This is similar to Instagram's "private story" feature.

If you're still feeling like you don't understand how to use Snapchat, fear not. It's hard to conceptualize without a visual example. I've posted a 10-minute primer on how to use Snapchat.

Keep in mind that social media is constantly adapting and evolving, and the apps follow along with these trends. 

Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com.

I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple! 

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.