Most people use Snapchat for cat photos and selfies, not sexting

People say the photo messaging app has an "illicit" reputation, but few users admit to sending sensitive material

Topics: Snapchat, Social Media, Apps, scientific study, Research, photos, cat photos, selfies, Sexting, , ,

Snapchat seems like the perfect medium for sending sexy photos. The images self-destruct within seconds of being opened (except for when they don’t), and users are automatically alerted when a recipient decides to take a screenshot (though there are loopholes to notification). That might be why Snapchat has gotten a reputation for being the sexting capital of the smartphone universe — but, according to a new study, the app doesn’t have quite the population of sexting users you might expect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Snapchat is yet another hub for selfies and pictures of people’s cats.

Researchers at the University of Washington polled 127 adult Snapchat users to find out the most popular ways people use the app, given its nearly exponential growth in recent months. Despite the study’s small sample size, it offers important insights about how the estimated 8 million Snapchat choose to snap — which they do about 350 million times a day, in total. As the researchers found, the content of those snaps isn’t quite what you’d expect: despite Snapchat’s reputation for being “illicit,” only 1.6 percent of respondents used the app primarily for sending sensitive or sexual material. For the most part, people use Snapchat simply to be silly.

A significant proportion of people reported sending sensitive material at some point, with 14.2 percent saying they’d sexted another user experimentally in the past, and nearly a quarter of participants admitted to “joke sexting,” or sending sexual or pseudo-sexual snaps in jest. But the researchers classified joke sexting as a separate category, likely because it falls more in line with the dominant type of Snapchat usage: “sending funny things.”



Nearly 60 percent of respondents claimed “funny things” as their primary reason for snapping, while selfies, other people and current activities were runners up. Sending animal photos also beat out sexual imagery in the breakdown of Snapchat’s practical raison d’être. As one respondent put it, Snapchat “lets me have more cats in my life because my friends who don’t normally post pictures of their cats on social media will snapchat [sic] their cats to me.”

Despite the finding that most people don’t use Snapchat for sexting, the researchers discovered that a significant number of people opted not to use the app because of its reputation for hosting illicit material. The belief, well-founded or not, could have important implications for how Snapchat is advertised. The researchers suggest that the app’s marketing team might consider focusing less on the ephemeral quality of its product, and more on the fact that it’s good fun.

Jenny Kutner

Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sex, gender and feminism. Follow @jennykutner or email jkutner@salon.com.

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