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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Snapchat’s Snap Map

smwr snapchatsnapmap 1 Houston Crime Stoppers

This public safety mother is a little annoyed this morning. There’s a part of me that wishes I could take on the social media platform creators one by one. They are the tool by which our children live (and they know it) yet they continue to make changes to their systems (that leave our children vulnerable and at risk) while facing no real liabilities.

Enter Snapchat and its newest feature Snap Map, a tracking system that shares users’ exact locations in real time. With a swipe of the fingers, the new Snap Map will open on your app and voila, you can see exactly where all your friends are and to some degree, what they might be doing, once again – In. Real. Time. What’s worse is that the update, launched just last week, was automatically added to each Snapchat account. That’s right, automatically added.

The map, which tracks the users’ (you or your teen’s) location, time of day, and activities (including things like speed of travel), creates and incorporates “actionmojis” (Huh!?!), a new type of “personalized avatar”, that represents the user on the map for all to see. If your teen is in a car, his/her “avatar” will show that, as well as where they are going. The actionmojis disappear after the user has been offline for several hours.

According to Snapchat: “We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!” With “safety” in mind, they later say: It’s also not possible to share your location with someone who isn’t already your friend on Snapchat, and the majority of interactions on Snapchat take place between close friends.”

Really!?! Dear Snapchat: No thank you. Also, have you ever met an average teen? The majority of their interactions on Snapchat do not take place between “close” friends. Signed, A very concerned mother

Think about:

  • In today’s “teen online social networking culture” which is a mix of popularity defined by how many contacts you have vs. an acceptable form of following (or “trolling”) others – teens are 100 percent connected to and following people they know very well to people they have never met but follow. They also accept almost all followers…
  • Are you okay with your child’s exact location and ultimately their daily patterns and schedules being trackable and shared with all their Snapchat “friends” both those known to you and them and those unknown?
  • What about children that are bullied, picked on, in controlling relationships, fighting with friends, posting explicit photos or suggestive photos, expressing their loneliness online (do you know how often that happens? A LOT.), posting from their homes or schools or, on the flip side, posting photos of their new car, watch, bag, gadget or more? How is adding a map with their exact location a “positive” addition?
  • Remember, your kids don’t know all their Snapchat “friends” (i.e., connections) and neither do you. Strangers (for sure), potential child predators (possibly), and an array of others should not have real-time, real-life access to your kids.

In response, consider opting out of Snap Map today by placing your account in Ghost Mode. Here’s how:

Step 1. Open Snapchat

Step 2. At the camera screen, place two fingers on the phone and “pinch” the screen or drag your pointer and thumb together towards the center of the phone.

Step 3. The Snap Map will automatically open

Step 4. Click settings and select from three options:

  • “Ghost Mode” – this will make you invisible to everyone.
  • “My Friends” – this allows all “your friends” (i.e., everyone you are connected to on Snapchat, many of whom you may not be friends with) to see your location.
  • “Select Friends” – this allows you to elect only those you will allow to see your location at all times and in real-time. Parents, review this list with your child.

We recommend that you go into Ghost Mode or “Select Friends” with a list of only family and closest family friends. That said, going into Ghost Mode is also recommended by child safety group Childnet International, which said: “Given how specific this new feature is on Snapchat – giving your location to a precise pinpoint on a map – we would encourage users not to share their location, especially with people they don’t know in person. It is important to be careful about who you share your location with, as it can allow people to build up a picture of where you live, go to school and spend your time.”

Parents, we have so much to keep track of and at times it’s overwhelming. My goal is to keep you abreast of changes in technology to help you as we navigate the world of social media. Remember that other platforms share locations too. Twitter lets people add their locations to tweets for example and Facebook allows you to check-in showing where you are in real time. That said, all these other location sharing options require you to take a stepto share. Snap Map automatically shares where you are unless you know to opt-out and go into Ghost Mode. There’s a big difference.

And finally, as we go celebrate July 4th and the birth of our wonderful nation, everyone we know, including ourselves, will be taking photos and sharing. It’s a great time to remind our teens how to post, what to post and who to share information with. It’s about living life to the fullest in safety – and there is nothing wrong with that!

Posted by Rania Mankarious, on 2 Jul 2017

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston