Snapchat first emerged in 2011 to a market that was welcoming but uncertain. Many users didn’t quite understand what to do with a communication tool that provided no lasting content. Young people, however, took to it right away, finding it an entertaining platform to capture and share momentary glimpses of life that would disappear from the digital world almost as quickly as the physical one.
The mobile-only social media application evolved over time, incorporating filters with more intricate features such as voice effects, customizable geo-tags and relevance to current events and holidays. It proceeded to try its hand as a news source and is now home to informative stories from big-name publications such as Cosmopolitan and People.
It is perpetually searching for new ways to establish itself as a reflection of the times, paralleling users who do the same with their stories. It is, and has always been, the most truthful platform for what is happening in real time. If you receive a Snapchat, you know it’s something that was physically happening at the time the photo or video was sent. If not, the app indicates backlogged content by including a white border around the perimeter of the picture or video.
But the idea that Snapchat … would allow users to manipulate their content seems a little out of character.
More recently, Snapchat announced a new feature it calls “Magic Eraser” that allows users to edit photos beyond filters and timestamps. It gives snappers the opportunity to erase objects or people they don’t want to be seen within the snap.
Photoshop itself is not a new idea. We’re used to seeing graduation, engagement and family photos edited to eliminate blemishes and unwanted flyaway hairs.
Sure, no one actually thought their friends using the dog filter had actually grown a snout and a nose. Users are well aware that their friends did not actually sprout a glowing halo of butterflies. That kind of animated manipulation is in character because it’s obvious. It is a widely understood aspect of the platform’s casual usage. But the idea that Snapchat, which always served as a peek into someone else’s present, would allow users to manipulate their content seems a little out of character.
To receive content through an app that has always been unabashedly honest—there is no Final Cut Pro X for a 10-second concert snippet—and to question which parts of it are real, is not something we’ve yet had to deal with.
There have already been ethical conversations around the facade of social media. Instagram portrays filtered moments as less flawed than they really are. Vacation albums on Facebook allow us to post our posed moments in front of the Eiffel Tower, as opposed to the “we’re not lost” argument that preceded finding it. It means we compare the mundane moments of our lives to the highlight reels of others.
Snapchat originally combatted this falsified reality. It felt like seeing your friends’ lives in real time, unedited, perhaps cheaply filtered, but otherwise, real. This new adaptation of the tool encourages contrived changes, implying they are “magic” as opposed to intentionally curated versions of our day to day. It begs the question if emerging generations will be able to imagine a world of genuine personas or of personalities who lack brands.
Snapchat is right to make updates that reflect current trends and desires. Had it remained stagnant, it would have died out long ago. Our response has to be changing our mental perception of the platform. It’s no longer a unique, real-time snapshot of whatever the present moment entails. With this change, however, it’s declaring it’s just like the rest of them.