To be sure, it’s not entirely clear that people were primarily using it as such. And since then, Snapchat has rehabilitated its image — now, it’s more associated as a messaging service geared towards millennials than anything else.
I’ve been writing about Snapchat at Business Insider for about a year. I use it as a primary or secondary mode of communication with a bunch of my friends, and I’m pretty bullish on the service (though I’m more sceptical about how it will make money).
I noticed a spike in the number of people who started following me on Snapchat last year around the time I started writing about the service — I went from having a couple friends add me every week to having 50 to 100 people add me every day. I could only conclude they saw my username in my BI stories and had added me.
I didn’t do anything with these random people — I had my settings private, so the only people who could see my stories or send me snaps were people I had added back. In other words, these individuals were basically queued up waiting for me to let them send me snaps and look at my Snapchat Stories.
Finally, about 6 weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I wondered how many people would view my rather mundane Snapchat Stories if I let them.
So I changed my privacy settings. I went from having a dozen or two people looking at my stories …
… To having more than a thousand people looking at my stories. (Still, it’s nothing compared to the nearly 2 million people who look at DJ Khaled’s snaps.)
Then I decided to open up my Snaps, to let anyone Snap me. Almost immediately, I received an influx of dozens of unread Snaps from random people. I was a little queasy. Would I regret this? Would I receive a selection of unprompted NSFW pictures? Only time would tell.
Six weeks later, here are my findings:
- I’m pleasantly surprised that I haven’t received a single explicit picture from the thousands of people who sent me Snaps. Instead, most of the snaps I receive appear to come from teens who have added me to a mass list of people they send silly selfies and videos to.
- I have gotten a few snaps from people asking who I am (In my opinion, the better question is who are they? I didn’t add any of them first) and people identifying me as a journalist (so they remembered why they had added me, I guess).
- I have blocked a few followers for sending spammy messages and being annoying, but it’s still a far different story than what happened to me when I opened up my Twitter DMs last year.
And here’s a selection of Snaps I’ve received. They range from hilarious to bizarre.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Snapchat’s users after receiving thousands of Snaps from hundreds of users (note that I didn’t reply to a single Snap — these were sent to me unprompted):
- Teens are absolutely using Snapchat, but they’re not the only ones. I got lots of Snaps from older users — that is, people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, based on their appearances. So Snapchat appears to be ever so slightly expanding outside of their millennial userbase.
- Selfies abound. About 80% of the Snaps I got were selfies with overlaid text. Others included black background with drawing or writing on top, Snaps of people’s meals or surroundings, and lots of text messages that said “Hi” or “Hello.”
- No explicit pictures. I estimate I’ve received close to 2,200 Snaps from random people I don’t know over the past six weeks, and not one of them sent me an explicit, NSFW picture, much to my relief. Do I believe this still happens on the platform? Absolutely. But it says something that I, a 23-year-old woman, can put my username out there for the world to see, and not get one unwanted explicit picture in response.
- People Snap early in the morning and late at night. I would wake up to a round of “going to class” or “good morning” Snaps, and at night I’d see a bunch crop up again between 6 and 9 pm.
When I opened up my Twitter DMs in 2015, I received a wide range of straight-up garbage in my direct messages. This includes random “hellos” from dozens of people who didn’t follow me or even speak the same language as me; NSFW messages from men too inappropriate to reprint here; and so, so many PR pitches. I promptly closed up my DMs after a month. There was no good that came out of opening up the ability to private message me to the public.
Harassment is an ongoing issue Twitter faces. You don’t hear about the same thing happening on Snapchat. Here’s my theory for why.
- It’s a lot harder to be anonymous on Snapchat. Snapchat has to be linked to your phone number, which increases accountability. It’s much easier to make a throwaway or fake account on Twitter, which just requires email verification.
At the same time, I’m not stupid. I acknowledge that abuse can occur on any platform, including Snapchat. If I ever have to report an account for harassment, I’ll be sure to note what kind of response I receive from the company.
But right now, I have no regrets about opening up my Snapchat account to everyone. I’ve learned a lot about user behaviour by observing what types of Snaps one user sends another seemingly random user. It’s confirmed my belief that Snapchat is increasingly popular with all types of people, all over the world.