Snapchat is built for teenagers.
The website features a bright and sunny shot of two young, pretty girls, with matching straightened, long blond hair and the kind of precisely thick black eyeliner only people under 20 can pull off, making energetically silly expressions and capturing their faces on an iPhone wrapped in hot-pink rubber. On the year-old app’s iTunes page, another pair of pretty white teenagers pose, first in summery shorts and tank tops and then, when you scroll all the way to the right, in bikinis. When the app is described as being rated for users over 12 years of age due to, in part, “mild sexual content or nudity,” this is the kind of picture you might assume they’re referring to.
But what makes Snapchat different from other photo-sharing services is precisely why the app seems suspect — unlike Instagram or Flickr, pictures shared through the app are time-sensitive. They self-destruct, like a Mission: Impossible-o-gram. Senders of Snapchat photos may choose how long they want their recipients to see these photos, up to 10 seconds, before they vanish forever. This feature — one designed, it seems, specifically for sending the kind of pictures users wouldn’t want recipients to hang onto permanently — has led some to question whether or not Snapchat is largely used for sexting among minors.