What Snapchat Isn’t Telling You (Could Get You Arrested)


Maddy Renda and Z Goodman

[This article is part of our “Busted!” issue]

Snapchat.What comes to mind when you hear that? A cool app that you can send pictures with? A way to keep in touch with friends? The sound of handcuffs?

Snapchat is a social media app in which you can send pictures to your friends and add funny captions and what not. The pictures or videos last up to ten seconds and then they’re gone (unless someone takes a screenshot). However, is that really true?  Is there a way to uncover these images for maybe legal cases? Over 100 million people use Snapchat daily, are they at risk for prosecution for a picture that they took on an app that was supposed to automatically delete itself?

Although many people view Snapchat as a fun way to contact your friends many people use the app for more explicit reasons. A survey done by the “Survata Research Network” of 715 Snapchat users stating that 13% of users have sent explicit photos of themselves and 8% would prefer not to say.  It seems likely, however, that many more people would simply (wisely?) not admit to participating in sexting.

Sexting Chart

There have been many cases in which young people have gotten in trouble for sending and or receiving nudes. One of which was in Beverly, Chicago where a girl sent a nude to her boyfriend and he took a screenshot of the picture and sent it around to other students, and demanded that she send more. Word got around and the screenshots spread fast; he now has to face counseling, though most cases are more extreme with the punishment.

“It’s a new crisis,” says Matt O’Shea, an Alderman of Chicago’s 19th ward. The sending of nude photos is becoming more and more popular and many teenagers do not understand how insecure social media actually is.

Another case involving nude photos on Snapchat took place outside of the United States in Montreal, Canada, and took on a legal aspect. Ten boys between the ages of 13 and 15 are facing the charges of distribution and possession of child pornography. This took place after the boys convinced girls to send explicit photos of themselves and continued to send them around to each other and fellow students.

Although child pornography is a serious (and often stigmatizing) charge many of these teenagers do not fully understand the consequences of their actions. Children are being labeled as sex offenders before they are even the age of consent and having very harsh charges filed against them when they clearly didn’t even understand what they were getting themselves into. [See our separate report on a unique–and scary–case in North Carolina.]

So what is Snapchat not telling you? When you click agree to the terms and conditions what are you really agreeing to? Snapchat is both famous and infamous for sending photos that get “deleted” after a minimum of one second and a maximum of 10. But do they really get deleted? After the (max) 10 second video or picture is deleted, if nobody took a screenshot, the picture is off your phone, but in the terms and conditions the company states that Snapchat will “temporarily process and store your images in order to provide our services,” which in layman’s terms it’s saying they will store your images and videos for up to 30 days, if not more. Further down into the fine print of the Snapchat terms and conditions, the company also states that the police can ultimately get a warrant for anything sent on your phone, ANYTHING.  There have already been several criminal cases where forensic experts have done exactly that.

Despite this fact, underage people (who are defined under federal law as less than 18 years old),  can be pressured by others saying how you’re “so beautiful” and “come on babe no one will see ;).”  Know the consequences: chances are if you send it he (or she) will screenshot it. Formerly, you were safer on Snapchat because people could tell when someone took a screenshot. Now the game has changed. With at least 100 “clone” apps like “SnapSave” where you can screenshot it without informing the other person, and other 3rd party apps that automatically SAVE Snapchats on your phone, it’s easier than ever to ‘expose’ the someone who thought they were sending a private communication–even if you didn’t mean to do so.  

Although probably more uncommon than not, teenagers sending and or receiving nude photos may be all fun and games–until they also face serious consequences.