Letting your teenage children use social media can feel as though you've suddenly let them loose inside a scene from Trainspotting -- there's so much that could happen, and that's scary, no question. The latest source of panic among parents is Snapchat's new Snap Map, a map that lets users see where their friends are in real time, and find out what they're doing. So Jonah can see that Hank and Mia are at a spin class nearby, and decide to meet up with them IRL. The feature, according to Snapchat, helps people get "inspired to go on an adventure".
Mums and dads are freaked. Snap Map has been dubbed the "stalk-your friends feature", and schools and police are issuing warnings about the potential dangers. In a video that's been circulating around Facebook, where parentals like to chillax and try to figure out these Snapchatty things, English actress Nadia Sawalha exclaims that she is "completely horrified" as her 14-year-old daughter Maddie tries to show her on a phone how it works.
I wanted to create a primer for parents about Snap Map, as there seems to be a lot of confusion, misconceptions and sensationalism surrounding it. Here are answers to some questions you might have about the new feature, and ways you can help your kids stay safe.
Can people automatically see where you are -- right now, without you knowing -- if you're using Snapchat?
No. Location sharing is optional and turned off by default. When you open the Snap Map for the first time, a prompt has you choose who you'd like to share your location with. That could be nobody (ghost mode). Or it could be all your friends (as long as you are mutual friends), or specific friends that you choose. Snaps shared on the public Our Story can show up on the map as well.
Settings can be changed at any time. Your location on the Snap Map is only updated when you're using Snapchat, not if your phone just happens to be on.
Can people literally see what you're doing in real time?
Not quite. The way some are making it sound is that people can watch you through their phones as you're eating or sleeping or working, like a live stream. They cannot. But Snapchat is trying to guess what you're doing using data such as as your location, speed of travel, the time of day, and whether your headphones are plugged into your phone. When it thinks it knows, it changes your "Actionmoji", a cartoon avatar, showing it on the map in an illustrated car, aeroplane, or perhaps under a beach umbrella. Friends with whom you're sharing your location can see the snaps you've posted in that particular spot.
Is Snap Map dangerous?
For this question, I asked Josh Ochs, the founder of Safe Smart Social, a digital safety resource for parents, teachers and students. "Do I think this feature is super devastating and scary? No. I think it's more of a public version of Find My Friends on an Apple device," he says. "Do I think it's an option for people to follow others and kind of find out where they're at? A little bit. So I would tell kids to never share their home base."
Ochs adds that people have been stalking their friends online since the dawn of the world wide web, and believes that this feature isn't too much different than geotagged Instagram or Facebook posts. "The internet is all about knowing where people are at," he says. However, sharing information on Instagram or Facebook does seem more intentional -- it can be very easy to forget that you're on the Snap Map every time you open Snapchat.
What else can parents do to help their kids make good decisions on Snapchat and social media in general?
Ochs recommends auditing your child online. If they're on Snapchat, sign up for Snapchat and find out what you can see. (He adds that no child under 13 should be on Snapchat.) "Be a passive viewer," he says. "Don't comment, or probe them. Let them have their space. That's why kids left Facebook and are leaving Instagram. It's because parents were commenting and liking and saying, "Oh Johnny, I love you so much. See you at dinner tonight. I'm making casserole."
Most importantly, keep talking to your kids about online safety -- how to be discerning when accepting friends, what's appropriate and inappropriate conduct, and how to create content that's positive.
OK, I got all that but Snap Map is still making me way too nervous. How do you enable ghost mode?
- Open Snapchat and go to the camera function.
- Pinch to zoom to open the Snap Map.
- Tap on the settings gear in the top right-hand corner
- Tick the box that says "Enable Ghost Mode".