How Does Snapchat work?

Snapchat is a mobile app that allows its users to send pictures and videos that are viewable for a limited amount of time, often between 1 and 10 seconds. We will refer to pictures and videos as “Snaps” in this article. When Snaps are posted to someone’s story (viewable to all friends), they are visible for 24 hours. Snapchat has creative tools that allow its users to create art pieces out of their Snaps. These tools include stickers, pens of various colours, and filters. Below, we have defined terms that are commonly referred to when talking about Snapchat.



A Snap is a photo or video sent to one or more friends. The photo or video can be layered with text, stickers, doodles, and various filters. They can be made visible from 1 to 10 seconds and can be replayed only once. A user’s privacy settings determine the users that Snaps can be received from.


Stories are visible to users’ friends for 24 hours. Snaps can be sent to a story just as they would be sent to friends, and they appear in chronological order. For example, you could send Snaps to your story throughout the day to show your friends what you did in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Live Stories:

Live Stories is a feature from Snapchat that compiles Snaps from certain events around the world. For example, New Year’s Eve may have its own live story, where submitted Snaps have the chance to be viewed worldwide. Likewise, events within a certain geographical area may be eligible for Live Stories, such as a music festival.


Publishers (ie. magazines) who curate their own content have their own channels in the Discover section. Users can view brief, easily digestible material in this section. Discover also includes some of the Live Stories from the day.

Text Chat:

One-on-one chat is possible with Snapchat. Similar to Snaps, text chats self-destruct when the recipient closes the Chat screen; however, there is an option to save messages that the recipient wants to keep.

Lenses, Filters, Doodles, and Stickers:

Customization is a huge draw for Snapchat users! While taking a photo or video, a user can activate a lens, which gives them the flexibility to add special effects or sounds. Once the photo or video is taken, there are options for filters. These include different colour overlays, the weather, or a geofilter based on location. Further to this, stickers and doodles can be added.



Memories are a private collection of Snaps and Stories that the sender decides to save before they disappear. Memories do not disappear, unlike regular Snaps and Stories. Memories can be used to create new Snaps and Stories. As well, Memories have the option to be saved in a “My Eyes Only” section, which is password protected – a very important feature to be aware of, especially for parents.

Online Reputations

With disappearing Snaps, users can often be blinded with a false sense of security. While the Snaps are allegedly temporary, there are ways around this. For example, screenshots and videos can be taken of the Snap playing on a user’s phone, deeming it no longer temporary and potentially harming the sender’s online reputation.

According to one of our sources:

  • 47% of Snapchat users say that they take screenshots of Snaps.
  • 4% have used another camera or phone to take a photo or video of a Snap.
  • 10% of those who do the above do it to embarrass the sender of the Snap.
  • Websites and blogs exist that are dedicated to showcasing leaked Snaps.
  • 15% of users between ages 12 and 17 admit that they have received a sexual Snap from someone who they know.

Taking the above into consideration, users should treat their content as if it were being permanently published to the internet. Practicing this while using Snapchat will help to reduce the risk of cyberbullying and online harassment.

“Snapchat itself admits that up to 25% of users may send sensitive content on a regular basis.”

Parents Q & A

Is there a minimum age for Snapchat?

The minimum age for Snapchat users is 13-years-old. Upon registering for a Snapchat account, the user is asked for their date of birth. They will not be allowed to create a Snapchat account if they are younger than 13.

What is the appeal of Snapchat and having photos/messages disappear?

Plain and simple, kids love talking to their friends. Snapchat provides a platform where spontaneous and creative photos/messages can quickly be sent. It is great for those “in the moment” scenarios. Snapchat has recreated the feeling of having a real-life conversation with someone. Whereas regular photos are posted to social media to stay, Snaps are not on display forever – or so it is assumed (Refer to Online Reputations above).

How can I help my child stay safe on Snapchat?

Ultimately, a positive Snapchat experience is entirely dependent on how it is used. Take a few moments to have a conversation with your child about how to be thoughtful in their use of social media – remind them that you can always be approached in the event that something does not feel right to them. This includes, but is not limited to, strangers requesting a meet-up or sexual content being sent to them. As well, parents should ensure that the privacy settings on their child’s Snapchat account are set to “My Friends” only.




Written by Lindsey Locke, Columnist