What are people really doing on Snapchat?

Snapchat and apps like it such as Bolt, Taptalk, and Mirage, are often dubbed sexting apps.  I have seen Snapchat, particularly, labeled as the sexting app.  Sexting cases using these and other apps tend to make a big splash in the news.  However, given the recently emerging scientific data about the lack of prevalence of sexting, it is hard to know just what is going on.  Is sexting a phenomenon that we need to be wary of or is it something that a small percentage of teens and adults do that garners front page news?

A recent bit of research that will be presented at the Financial Crypto 2014 conference sought to address this issue.  The computer science researchers conducted a user survey of 127 snapchat users.  They wanted to answer several questions.  First, they wanted to know how and for what reason people used the Snapchat app.  Second, they wanted to know how commonly the users created screenshots of the images for long term storage.  Finally, they wanted to know what the users thought about the security of the app and whether or not they trusted the app.   The survey was only offered to adults, so the results can truly only be extrapolated to adult populations.  Additionally, given the very small sample size of this survey, 127 of the estimated 8 million adult users, we need to be very careful how much we read into the results.

The respondents to the study were predominantly male (68.5% male vs 29.9% female).  The greatest number of respondents were between the ages of 18-24 (81.9%), though there were users all the way into the 55-64 year old age category.

Whose sexting?  According to the survey, 1.6% of respondents said that they were using the Snapchat app primarily for sexting.  14.2% did report that they have used the app to send sexual content, though they might not do so regularly.  More people (23%) will admit to “joke” sexting, in which they are sending sexual material as a joke.   This is another piece of data that suggests that sexting is not nearly as prevalent as the media suggests.  Most adults are not sexting using this app.

What about privacy?  Do people who use the app have privacy concerns?  The answer appears to be yes.  Most of the respondents to the survey indicated that they would use a shorter time out for secret texts or “embarrassing” photos.  This suggests that there is some concern about the receiver taking a screen shot of the snapchat.

On the flip side of privacy, 47.25% of the study respondents stated that they had taken a screen shot of a message that was sent to them and 52.85% stated that a recipient of a message they sent took a screen shot of the message.

Taken all together, this survey (pitfalls and all) suggest that sexting is not as common as we might believe.  Snapchat has earned the moniker “the sexting app” with under 2% of its users (in this survey) using the app for sexting on a regular basis.  Obviously, this small survey does not give us the entire picture.  There are many other self destructing messaging apps out in the digital universe with new ones emerging all the time.  However, it remains entirely possible that we are spending a lot of time worrying about sexting when the dangers of sexting might only be hitting less than 2% of our population.  That being said, the effects of sexting on adolescents (see prior blog posts www.thenewageofsexeducation.com) who do engage are worth noting and addressing.


Roesner, F., Gill, B.T., * Kohno, T. (2014).  Sex, Lies, or Kittens?  Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages.  Pre-Proceedings version. Presented at Financial Crypto.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s