Written by Haley Hembree
Social media use among young adults has changed relationship dynamics over the last 10 years. Increases in social media use may change interpersonal interaction in the future. Most studies on social media impact focus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (e.g., Utz, Muscanell, & Cameran, 2015). However, one recently popular platform has been excluded from most media research. Snapchat is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers and young adults. Snapchat is an app that allows users to send pictures or quick videos to another user (usually accompanied by a short text), with the picture or video disappearing soon after being sent. These quick messages, or “snaps,” can only be saved if a screenshot is taken, and the sender of the snap will be notified. Most of the sent pictures include images of funny and mundane material. Most young adults report using Snapchat to send funny images, pictures of themselves, and pictures of what they are currently doing (Utz et al., 2015).
Snapchat's Role in Romantic Partner Jealousy
There are both advantages and disadvantages to this app. The advantage that Snapchat has over its competitors is the illusion of privacy and the disappearance of content, which many enjoy. Public content on social media is often posted for a large audience, while many send individual snaps on Snapchat. More intimate conversation and more raw content can be sent with a degree of confidence that it will not be viewed by others. Self-disclosure and maintenance are important factors in romantic relationships (Yang, Brown, & Braun, 2014). Jealousy among romantic partners increases with Snapchat use, which may be its greatest disadvantage (Utz et al., 2015). The “Best Friends” feature, the list of the top three people one snaps the most, added tension to romantic relationships when a partner found out that they were not included on this list. A worse situation that evokes jealousy occurs when a partner adds his or her ex-partner. Adding previous romantic partners or attractive competitors to a network is generally unsettling for current romantic partners, and distrust occurs. “This makes sense in the context that snaps can be made to disappear in a matter of seconds, leaving little evidence of extra-relational communication” (Vaterlaus, Barnett, Roche, & Young, 2016, p. 430). Additionally, a few have been concerned that disappearing pictures would increase sexting. However, only 13% say that they use Snapchat for sexting in general, and less than two percent of Americans say that they use Snapchat primarily for sexual content (Roesner, Gill, & Kohno, 2014).
Generational Differences in Snapchat Use
One interesting aspect of Snapchat use is the “youth culture” that has developed. Vaterlaus and Tuane (2015) discuss generational differences surrounding media use. This new media culture “(a) includes shared rules, beliefs, and meaning around media use and (b) is often invisible to adults” (Vaterlaus & Tuane, 2015, p. 6). A common thread of unwritten rules governs what is considered to be appropriate use on Snapchat. These unspoken beliefs clearly dictate a generational difference, as youth often express annoyance at the older generation, particularly parents, who break these norms. Young adults frequently stated that their parent did not see the value in this technology (Vaterlaus & Tuane, 2015). Most of the discord centers around the functionality of snaps and the frequency of Snapchat use.
How does Snapchat affect different types of relationships?
The type of person to whom a snap is sent tends to be a person with whom the sender is in some type of close relationship. A young adult is less likely to snap a random individual. This conclusion stems from the functionality of Snapchat. Snapchat is often compared to text messages (Yang et al., 2014). The advantage that snaps have over text messages is the inclusion of context within the content. A short text message may be easily misinterpreted, but a snap that contains a picture allows for the presence of nonverbal cues, which facilitates communication within friendships, romantic relationships, and familial relationships. The ease of communication is especially important for long-distance relationships. One study by Veterlaus, Barnett, Roche, and Young (2016) explores young adults' behavior on Snapchat and its effects on interpersonal relationships. One individual believes that Snapchat helps her keep in touch with family while she is away at college. Emily (21) stated, “I think it's kind of good that my parents have Snapchat because then [my mom] will send me like these goofy ones sometimes. It kind of makes you laugh a little bit and it's good that you still see [your parents] when their far away” (Vaterlaus et al., 2016, p. 6). Snapchat is more often used to deepen existing connections, rather than to create new ones. Complications arise when romantic partners experience jealousy when “too many” snaps are sent by their partner to a romantic competitor. Mariana (21) disclosed, “I have a friend and on her boyfriend's phone she found out that he was cheating on her because of snapchats. Because she kept seeing this girl's name pop up and she went through his messages and he was talking to her about inappropriate pictures…” (Vaterlaus et al., 2016, p. 5).
Importance of Researching Snapchat
Social media platforms that have gained a large number of users, such as Facebook, have gained the most recognition among researchers. The study of social media needs to include more recent forms, such as Snapchat, in order to help researchers understand the true impact that this technology has on society and relationships. The use of Snapchat is growing at a much faster rate than researchers are studying its effects. For example, 17% of people are now using Snapchat, with 41% of them being young adults (Duggan, 2015). Snapchat comes with both positive and negative effects. Few social media platforms promote both relationship maintenance and jealousy to such a degree, which makes Snapchat a unique platform and a viable contender for further study.
Duggan, M. (2015). Mobile messaging and social media 2015. The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/19/mobilemessaging-and-social media-2015-main-findings/.
Roesner, F., Gill, B. T., & Kohno, T. (2014, March). Sex, lies, or kittens? Investigating the use of Snapchat's self-destructing messages. Paper presented at the 18th annual Financial Cryptography Conference, Barbados.
Utz, S., Muscanell, N., & Cameran, K. (2015). Snapchat elicits more jealousy than Facebook: a comparison of Snapchat and Facebook use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(3), 141-146.
Vaterlaus, J. M., & Tulane, S. (2015). Digital generation differences in parent-adolescent relationships. In C. J. Bruess (Ed.), Family communication in the digital age (pp. 426-446). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.
Veterlaus, J. M., Barnett, K., Roche, C., & Young, J. A. (2016) “Snapchat is more personal”: An exploratory study on Snapchat behaviors and young adult interpersonal relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 594-601.
Yang, C. C., Brown, B. B., & Braun, M. T. (2014). From Facebook to cell calls: layers of electronic intimacy in college students' interpersonal relationships. New Media & Society, 16, 5-23.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor