Temporary Social Media
Messages that quickly self-destruct could enhance the privacy of online communication and make people feel freer to be spontaneous.
One essential aspect of privacy is the ability to control how much we disclose to others. Unfortunately, we’ve lost much of that control now that every photo, chat, or status update posted on a social-media site can be stored in the cloud: even though we intended to share that information with someone, we don’t necessarily want it to stay available, out of context, forever. The weight of our digital pasts is emerging as the central privacy challenge of our time.
But what if people could make their posts vanish automatically—making social media more of an analogue to everyday conversations that aren’t recorded for posterity? That’s the promise of services such as Snapchat, a mobile-phone app whose popularity has increased dramatically during the past year. Evan Speigel and Bobby Murphy, who met as undergrads at Stanford, came up with the idea two years ago, around the time New York congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally made racy photos of himself public on Twitter and was forced to resign. Snapchat lets users take photos or short videos and then decide how long they will be visible to the recipient. After 10 seconds or less, the images disappear forever.