In the 1990s, social media was messaging based. Many people interacted with one another in chat rooms and through instant messaging services like AIM and ICQ. While Geocities provided a place for people to build webpages, the extent of human interaction was usually rooted in guestbooks. Just like fashion, it was only a matter of time before we found ourselves back in the 1990s.
Once parents and grandparents started heading for Facebook to keep up with their families, teens and young adults started scurrying to new social media outlets. Many of these platforms are mobile messaging applications which exist solely on handheld devices. Similar to instant and text messaging services, there are not social media profiles that family members and prospective employers can easily monitor from desktop and laptop computers. These sites provide safe havens for teens and young adults from the watchful eyes of outsiders. Currently, there are three major mobile messaging apps that dominate the field: Snapchat, Kik, and WhatsApp.
Snapchat is a photo and video messaging app that has become wildly popular amongst teens and young adults due to its “disappearing” messages, known as snaps. To create snaps, users manipulate photos and videos with built-in tools and send them to an exclusive group of friends. Unlike other photo sharing services like Instagram, where users have a profile and push content to other social media sites, snaps exist within the app itself. Snaps are only retained for a few seconds after being opened before they are removed from Snapchat’s servers and users’ mobile devices. (While there are some ways to extract this data using screenshots and forensic techniques, those methods are outside of the scope of this post.)
WhatsApp is a messaging app that works in a similar way to Kik. It allows users to have group chats and share video, photo, text, and location information. Whatsapp has become increasingly popular amongst mobile users, and some studies suggest it has even passed Facebook messenger in popularity. Just like Kik, the information resides in the application itself on a user’s mobile device.
The Trouble With Messaging Apps
One of the major issues arising out of the shift to mobile messaging technology is child safety. As teenagers have fled Facebook, parents have become less able to monitor their children’s behavior. This has led to new avenues for cyber bullying, spreading child pornography, and initiating connections that lead to sexual assault. It also proves a significant challenge for law enforcement, as they have a difficult time tracking activity on these applications.