Measuring Friendship on Snapchat

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Looking down at her phone, the teenage girl clicked on her Snapchat app to catch up with her friends. Each of her friends was listed in the chat window along with a flame icon and number beside many of them. The girl methodically went down the list and made sure she sent a message to each of her friends.

The girl was starting to have a love/hate relationship with Snapchat. She liked how she could send disappearing messages and quickly catch up with friends but using the social networking app was starting to feel like an obligation.

The flame icons and numbers besides each of her friends names represented how many days in a row the girl had chatted with her friends. She had a Snapstreak of over 200 days with several of them. As the days began to build, the girl felt more and more pressure to not be the one to break the streak.

Snapchat

Snapchat is a social networking app that is very popular with teens. The app is based on sending Snaps, which are disappearing photos or video that can have various filters, emojis, and text layered on top of them. When teens send a Snap to a friend, a streak is started. Snapchat also allows for Snaps to be strung together to create 24 hour Stories.

Teens like Snapchat because it is playful and fun. It also allows them to “live in the moment’. The disappearing messages make it feel like conversations are light and low pressured which is quite different from other social networks where everything is stored for the future.

Snapstreak

A downside to Snapchat is how it quantifies friendships with the Snapstreak. Teens are at an age where friendships and relationships with their peers are very important. How teenagers treat their friends become woven into their overall identity. Yet, they often feel insecure about their friendships and how they are going. Snapchat has provided a way to calm those insecurities by measuring a friend’s commitment to the relationship through the Snapstreak.

The result is that Snapchat has created a mechanism to assure teens will use its app daily. Woe unto a teenager that fails to keep a Snapstreak alive and possibly jeopardize a friendship. The pressure to keep a streak alive builds the longer it goes on.

The only way out is for both friends to agree to stop the streak. This comes with risk as the one who brings it up runs the risk of the other friend getting upset and believing something about the friendship has changed. Hence something that was at first fun can become an obligation.

Snapchat is a popular app with teens that can be fun and lighthearted. However, it has features like Snapstreak that can make using the app feel more like an obligation. Parents or grandparents who have teenagers that use Snapchat should spend a little time talking to them about the app and see if the teens need any help negotiating out of Snapstreaks with friends.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Tuesday on January 10, 2017

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