The Ethics of SnapChat

Kayla Jones, BlackBear- Students use social media as a source of entertainment and expression, but do these platforms owe more than the former to their users? Controversy surrounding Snapchat prompts concern about the ethical obligations organization’s have to their publics.

Founded in 2007, Snapchat revolutionized the world of social media. The structure of the app encouraged users to document their lives as it was happening in real time. Unlike its predecessors, Snapchat featured only a camera option to upload content to the user’s feed. Furthermore, posts expired in twenty-four hours, a symbolic manifestation of the companies’ devotion to living “in the moment” – a core component of their mission statement.

Snapchat is further characterized by geo-filters, digital markers that indicate user’s specific location, and notifications that alert users when their post has been screenshotted. Innovative in function and design, Snapchat aimed to create a new image for social media; one that promoted spontaneity, travel, and fellowship amongst its users.

Yasir McGirt, a junior majoring in construction management, said his experiences with Snapchat align with the company’s initial vision. “Snapchat is more personal than other apps”, McGirt said. “I post stuff on there that I wouldn’t post other places”. However, Snapchat’s reputation for discretion and novelty was interrupted when an update to the app did not yield positive responses from its users. The new format allowed for more advertisements and abandoned the chronological order of the timeline, opting for an algorithm that presented content in order of perceived relevance.

Despite an uproar from it’s users, Snapchat did not revert to their original format.
“[Organizations] should listen to the reactions they get from people”, McGirt said. He went on to explain that Snapchat’s unwillingness to renege has resulted in him using the app less. Many influential Snapchat users felt similarly and took to social media to express their discontentment.

kylie tweet.png

Tweet from Kylie Jenner that caused Snapchat stocks to plummet.

In the midst of their update induced public relations crisis, Snapchat created another obstacle for themselves when the company released an advertisement that many considered to be insensitive.would you rather.png

Advertisement posted on Snapchat on March 12th.
Snapchat received harsh backlash for the advertisement and despite their efforts to make amends, their usage and ratings fell to new depths.

Claud Vincent, a senior majoring in Health Communication, said “in today’s age especially, organizations should know that people are going to react to what they do”.

As organizations strive for inclusiveness and social awareness, their actions are increasingly scrutinized by the public. An advertisement that is perceived to be crass can taint and diminish an organizations reputation.
Apps like Snapchat are used by millions of students worldwide. Their vast reach catapults them into a position of inherent influence. Failure to use this influence responsibly can affect their popularity, but more importantly it can create a notion of social negligence.

“Apps have to be ethical, or we won’t use them. The young people care about issues and right and wrong” Vincent said.

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