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Texting Without A Trail

November 20, 2012, 10:07 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Texting Without A Trail
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Cell phones are still important to communicate, but fewer people are actually talking on them.  Just like email use faded away for faster forms of communication like Facebook and Twitter, there is a new smartphone communication tool. It’s called Snap Chat.

“I got a snap from some person. I was like, 'What is a snap?' I was out of the loop,” high school student Alex Shields said.

“You can make all the weird faces that you want. I have eight chins in some of the photos that I send to my friends. It's hilarious. It's great!” Shields’ friend, Haley Maxwell, said.

The teens are among the earliest adopters to the new photo sharing and texting trend through the smartphone application.

“I walk down the halls and see people making funny faces on their phones and think, 'That's not normal.' Now it is!” exclaimed Shields.

Shields and Maxwell say they are not alone. Snap Chat has almost completely replaced texting the teens and their friends.

“It goes right to the picture; no need to sign in or anything,” Shields said. “Go to all friends. Click the button and send it to as many as you want to send it to.”

So you take the photo, compose a short text and send. But that's not all. There's another trick to Snap, and it's all in the timing.

“You have to choose how many seconds you want them to see it; one to 10 seconds depending on how long the message is or how long you want them to see the pictures,” Maxwell said.

Once the text is gone, it's gone. Maybe it's no surprise that the app has caught on. The teens say it's all in fun. But we couldn't help but wonder about the potential risks when any evidence -- good or bad -- just disappears?

“Any application that touts its primary value as disappearing in 10 seconds makes for some real issues of accountability,” Brad Patterson with the Sioux Falls Carroll Institute said.

Patterson says that's troubling in some cases. As apps like Snap Chat gain popularity, Patterson says they may also invite those who take advantage of innocence.

“Those people who try to abuse other students or friends online. There is cyber stalking or just trying to hack information sending harsh photos or texts,” Patterson said.

Patterson says that happens at any age, not just among teens. It could be through sending risky photos of ourselves or others and even riskier messages. And when teens are involved, the app may fuel an already growing problem in the age group: bullying.

“As accountability disappears, we tend to be more emboldened. We want to take more risks when we feel like we can get away with them,” Patterson said.

“That's exactly what my mom said once I got Snap Chat,” Maxwell said. “She was like, ‘Why would you want to send pictures to people that you want to and it can just go away?’”

“They don't know what emotion you're putting into that text. Some people think you have a different emotion what you're actually putting into that text. With a picture, they actually see what you're thinking and feeling,” Shields said.

But there is no guarantee they'll disappear forever. Even the application’s privacy policy says it can't guarantee the images are permanently gone. Snap does allow users to take a screen shot, which could deter inappropriate usage because it also briefly freezes out those who do try and save images and alerts someone if their photo was saved.

But these teens use it innocently enough, which is why they aren't worried about their pictures living in cyberspace.

“No. The pictures I send, the worst thing anyone could say is, ‘Whoa that's not a pretty girl,' just because I make the funniest faces” Maxwell said.

Snap Chat is available for the Android and iPhone devices. The free has more than a million installs in the Google Play store alone. It is recommended for ages over 12 by iTunes. Patterson says while most teens do use it for fun, parents need to know about the app in case an issue arises.

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