As a shooter rampaged through their school with a semi-automatic weapon, students hiding in lockdown were uploading Snapchat stories to an interactive map - allowing kids around the world to watch the atrocity live.
The new web-based Snap Map allows anyone with a browser to head to the page, zoom in and click on any location around the world to see what people are “snapping” about in that vicinity.
Snap Map has the potential to be used for good - as an immediate, unfiltered news source that can take viewers from anywhere in the world right to the centre of a breaking news story.
But the privacy implications are potentially catastrophic, say critics. And the risk that children may be traumatised by the live violence they may encounter is nothing short of chilling.
To cyber expert and psychologist Jordan Foster, the use of Snap Map during Florida school shooting is a stark example of how technology “moves so rapidly that features like this can be imposed upon without warning. And then we as a community of parents are left to deal with the implications.
“It leaves me speechless.”
Foster, whose clinical and consulting practice The Erudite Group specialises in keeping children safe online, notes that such developments leave parents utterly unprepared - “because at no point in history have we ever been faced with these issues of immediate, un-moderated, unfiltered, live content being forced into our children's awareness.”
Violence isn’t the threat to children using Snap Map, says Foster, citing adult-only venues that have begun using the feature to broadcast straight to users - many of them children. “I have even seen strip clubs record their performers over the Snap Map to entice possible clients to enter,” she notes.
Other critics observe Snapchat is exploiting naive users - including children and teens - to gain marketshare. And that Snapchat is doing so without regard for the consequences of such sharing for their own safety or those who may be involved in an unfolding disaster like a live shooting.
“It’s the equivalent of giving a weapon to a baby,” observes David Vaile, co-convenor of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Community at the University of NSW.
There are two things that make Snap Map different from, say, Facebook Live or other platforms that broadcast in real time. One is how easy it is to access content. The other is the way it pinpoints users’ locations.
Also worrying is the potential for staging criminal activities - whether actual events or hoaxes - to gain attention from an audience.
Snap Map users have no journalistic or ethical training to distinguish between “what is fit to print versus what may be dangerous, intrusive or harassing … no awareness that some things that ‘the public might be interested in’ are not ‘in the public interest,” notes Vaile.
For all of these reasons cyber experts strongly urge Snapchat users not to opt in to this latest feature. Like most other social media platforms, Snapchat’s age restriction is 13 - and widely ignored.
If you’re concerned about what your children are seeing on social media - frankly, you should be, experts agree. Family Zone allows you to block SnapChat, or any other app that may be inappropriate for your child.
(image credit: www.kaspersky.com)