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This month, Snap, Inc. (“Snap”) announced a new safety tool called Family Center.  Unfortunately, after review, the Organization for Social Media Safety believes that it will not have any meaningful impact on child safety.

With Snapchat’s Family Center, parents, after requesting permission from their child, can see a list of who their child is friends with on Snapchat and which of those friends they have communicated with over the last seven days.  Snap confirmed that the tool will provide parents no insight into “the substance of those conversations.” 

Snapchat’s Family Center. Source: https://snap.com/en-US/safety-and-impact/post/family-center

Why Snapchat’s Family Center Is Not a Serious Safety Offering:

(1)   Secret Accounts:  By enabling parents to identify suspicious Snapchat accounts that their child has connected with, Snapchat presumably intends this new feature to deter or prevent children from engaging in certain high-risk activities, like drug seeking or communicating with adult strangers.  However, if a teen is intent on engaging in such activities through Snapchat then they likely will, or may already, be using a second, secret account.  Parents will have no ability to monitor a child’s secret Snapchat accounts with this new feature (and currently have little to no ability to conduct such monitoring otherwise.) So while a parent can connect the Family Center tool to a child’s main account, with which a child can conduct most of their Snapchat activities, that child can easily employ a secret account for high-risk activities without any parental oversight whatsoever. 

Snap has said in response to this concern that “if a person does have multiple accounts they would have to fully log out of the app to toggle between them.”  In a test, we found it takes about four seconds to accomplish this toggling, which, coincidentally, is the same amount of time it takes us to access the Family Center from the home screen.

(2)   Redundant: As discussed, Family Center offers parents the ability to see who their child is friends with on Snapchat.  However, parents have always been able to see their child’s friend list by directly reviewing their child’s account. We do not understand why Snap used months of valuable time and resources to offer a capability that parents already have.

(The Family Center does offer the added ability for the parent to see, only within the past seven days, if a child communicated with someone that they then removed as a friend on Snapchat.  However, if a child is actively removing Snapchat friends to avoid detection, then that child would likely just create a secret account as discussed above.)

(3)   Impractical for Parents: If the objective of Snapchat’s Family Center is to help parents identify users with whom their child should not be communicating, then this tool is highly inefficient for most parents.  First, teens can have hundreds of Snapchat friends and are regularly adding more.  And teens send a lot of messages, called snaps, with some teens even sending hundreds of thousands per year.  We do not believe that the average, busy parent will be able to undertake a weekly review of the lengthy list of their child’s Snapchat friends and identify the one or two suspicious connections. (Bizarrely, the Family Center tool seemingly offers no ability for parents to be alerted when their child has a new Snapchat connection.)

In addition, the Family Center tool only shows parents the registered names of their child’s friends on Snapchat, which is generally insufficient for these purposes.  Unfortunately, teens often do not register on Snapchat with their actual names, simply using first names, nicknames, or phrases.  So, even with this tool, a parent will usually have a very limited ability to identify who a child’s Snapchat friends actually are, meaning parents will have to either take their child’s word for who they are connecting with, just as before this tool was available, or undertake some heroic verification process, on a weekly basis.

(4)   Useless for the Most Common, Major Risks: Based on our observation, the most common dangers facing children from Snapchat use come from interactions with peers they actually know in person.  The long list of such dangers includes cyberbullying, sexting, depression, self-harm, violence, sexual harassment, hate speech, and substance abuse.  Generally, Family Center, which focuses on assisting parents to identify Snapchat friends who are not known to the child, provides parents with no way to increase protection against the danger of using Snapchat with known peers.

How To Start Using the New Family Center Tool:

To be able to use the new Family Center tool, parents need to:

(1)   Create their own Snapchat account.

(2)   In the new parent account: Make a request to connect with your child.

(3)   In the child’s account: The child must accept the request to connect.

(4)   In the parent account: Using the magnifying glass tool on the home screen, search for and click on “Family Center”.

(5)   In the parent account: Search for and add the child to the Family Center dashboard.

(6)   In the child’s account: Have the child approve the invitation to be added to your Family Center dashboard.

How To Maximize the Safety Benefits of the New Family Center

The best way to make use of the new Family Center is to use it in conjunction with our Buckling the Social Media Seatbelt System:

  • Conversations: Discuss with your child why you will be using the Family Center tool.  This conversation should include a review of the dangers of connecting with anyone on social media that your child does not know in real life.
  •  Rules: Especially for younger teens, consider setting a rule that your child is not allowed to connect with anyone on Snapchat who they do not know in real life and who is not their own age.  Also, especially for younger or higher-risk teens, consider limiting your child’s Snapchat friends to a reasonable number, which would make reviewing their Snapchat friend list through Family Center more practical for parents.  If your child violates these rules or any other social media safety rule, consider letting them know in advance that they will lose Snapchat and/or their mobile devices for a certain amount of time.
  • Calibrate the Settings: Using your operating system or third-party safety app to restrict the amount of time that your child can use Snapchat will lessen the number of messages that they can send, potentially making the Family Center tool more practical for you by creating fewer connections for you to review.  You can also use these settings to restrict Snapchat use if your child violates your social media safety rules.  (See our free, parent course for instructions.)

Finally, please consider carefully whether your child is ready to use Snapchat.  Many children have been harmed through using the platform, so we suggest real caution.  According to Snapchat’s own terms of service, children under 13 should not be using the platform.

Snap Needs To Do Better To Protect Children

After months of promising action in the wake of numerous child deaths connected to Snapchat use, Snap finally launched this new safety feature.  The weakness of Snapchat’s Family Center is offensive in the face of the ongoing harm linked to the platform.  Significantly more effective safety options are available to Snap, yet it chooses to prioritize this incredibly limited one.  For the health and safety of our children, Snap must do better.

This tool is new, and we will continue to reassess its effectiveness.  Please let us know about your family’s experience with it.  

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