In my past posts I’ve discussed the “ins and outs” of Snapchat. I’ve described how Snapchat works, who uses it, and how they use it, so what’s next? Well, like any medium Snapchat affects certain areas in our life, even if we are unaware of it. For that reason the next question we must ask is, what effects does Snapchat, as an ephemeral, image sharing, messaging app, have on its users? Specifically, how does Snapchat affect its users’ relationships?
As a social media app, Snapchat is all about communication and people. So it’s fair to assume that out of all the aspects of our lives, Snapchat would have the biggest impact on its users’ relationships. Furthermore, it’s fair to assume in general that Snapchat may affect our lives in any way just because of its sheer popularity. That’s why even though Snapchat is a fairly new and continually growing app, there have still been a few scientific studies on its effects on users, including its effects on relationships. One such study is by Sonja Utz, Nicole Muscanell, & Cameran Khalid titled Snapchat Elicits More Jealousy than Facebook: A Comparison of Snapchat and Facebook Us. In this study Utz, Muscanell, & Khalid looked into the impact on interpersonal relationships and the psychological effects both Snapchat and Facebook have on their users (source). What they found was that Snapchat actually elicited more jealousy than Facebook (source). Why compare Facebook and Snapchat you may ask, well researchers state that the two sites differences in visibility may effect jealousy (source). In fact, both sites are complete opposites when it comes to visibility and persistence (source). While Snapchat reaches a smaller group for a shorter amount of time, giving it low visibility and persistence, Facebook is exactly the opposite (source). Facebook is much more public than Snapchat giving it high visibility and persistence and making the two sites interesting to compare (source). For the actual experiment, researchers surveyed 77 participants from around Europe about their Facebook and Snapchat use and motivations (source). After, users’ jealousy and need for popularity were measured by asking them to indicate, on a 7 point scale, the likelihood they would get jealous on Facebook or Snapchat given a certain context (source). Researchers found that while participants tended to use Snapchat less and have fewer friends on Snapchat, both Snapchat and Facebook were used for the same reasons; mainly procrastination, keeping in touch with family and friends, and seeing what people are up to (source). Researchers found that while neither site elicited extremely high levels of jealousy, Snapchat elicited more than Facebook (source). They found that participants were most jealous when a partner added or messaged a previous partner, or someone of the opposite sex they didn’t know, on Snapchat (source). Jealousy was only higher on Facebook, compared to Snapchat, when a partner received a post on their wall from an unknown person of the opposite sex (source). Furthermore, researchers found that need for popularity was positively correlated with jealousy on both Facebook and Snapchat (source). In other words, users need for popularity seems to contribute to their jealousy on Facebook and Snapchat. So what does this mean for relationships? Overall, the study found that, “partner behaviors on Snapchat evoked higher levels of jealousy than the same behaviors on Facebook. Thus, people seem to be more distrustful if the partner chooses a more private channel for communicating with a potential rival (source).” According the study, because Snapchat users tend to only keep a small amount of close friends in their contacts, any activity involved in possible disloyalty, such as messaging a an unknown person of the opposite sex, makes people more jealous than if it were a more public site like Facebook where any number of people could contact you for any number of reasons. In the case of this study, Snapchat can actually have a negative effect on relationships by causing jealousy more easily than some other sites like Facebook.
Another interesting study about Snapchat’s possible influence on relationship development was done by Justin Velten and Rauf Arif titled The Influence of Snapchat on Interpersonal Relationship Development and Human Communication. In this study 16 trained interviewers conducted interviews with 80 participants ranging from 18 to 60 years old, all of whom were Snapchat users (source). Participants were asked five short answer questions about their use of Snapchat (source). After reviewing the interviews, researchers first found that participants used Snapchat to intensify their relationships (source). Participants stated that “fun” pictures tend to be less awkward than texts and are therefore less likely to be rejected by he person they were sent to. That is to say that while wording can be awkward in texts, a shared image over Snapchat (with no caption) leaves interpretation to the receiver (source). Some participants even said that sharing images over Snapchat reassures the level of trust in their relationships (source). Next, researchers found that participants used Snapchat to reopen lines of communication with friends or family they had lost touch with (source). Participants stated that images shared over Snapchat acted as conversation starters that came off as less threatening than other forms of communication such as a texts (source). Velten and Arif state that, “after extended absences in real-life, sent images via Snapchat create a strong sense of presence without words jumbling the intention (source).” Furthermore, the study also found that Snapchat doesn’t just work to intensify and reinitiate relationships; it can also be used to maintain relationships (source). Velten and Arif state that, “Snapchat images provide an outlet for users to make clear efforts toward relationship maintenance (source).” Furthermore, one participant said that sending “stupid pictures back and forth” allowed them to feel more connected with people they don’t see every day (source). Other participants simply stated that they use Snapchat to strengthen their existing relationships (source). On the other hand, the study also found that Snapchat can play a part in deterring and ending relationships (source). Participants stated that intended or not, when people ignored their sent photos and videos on Snapchat it sent a clear message of avoidance (source). Participants admitted that it upset them when someone opened their Snap but didn’t respond (source). Some participants went as far as to say that it affected the nature of their relationship with the person who ignored their Snap (source). According to the study, lack of response on Snapchat could lead to a negatively affected relationship due to the feeling that the other person does not care enough about the relationship to respond (source). Overall, Velten and Arif’s study found that Snapchat can play a big role in engaging, building, reinitiating, and maintaining (or avoiding/ending) relationships (source).
One last study concerning Snapchat and relationships was done by Joseph Bayer, Nicole Ellison, Sarita Schoenebeck, and Emily Falk. They did a study on the ephemeral (temporary) nature of Snapchat titled, Sharing the small moments: ephemeral social interaction on Snapchat. In their study Bayer, Ellison, Schoenebeck, & Falk identify Snapchat as a platform to share small moments of life (source). Furthermore they state, that while Snapchat may be similar to other photo sharing apps, they believe its ephemeral nature causes it to have slightly different effects (source). In the study, analysis of previous research found that mobile photo sharing, as done on Snapchat, “supports both relationship development and maintenance (source).” The first part of the study surveyed 154 undergrads at a large U.S. college on demographics and interactions on social media and mostly deals with emotions associated with using Snapchat (source). In short, they found that Snapchat was viewed as more pleasant and associated with a more pleasant mood than texting, email, and Facebook, but viewed as less pleasant than face-to-face communication (source). Researchers also found that the average closeness between the user and the person they were communicating with over Snapchat was about the same as with calling and texting, but higher than face-to-face, email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (source). The second part of the study, and the part more concerned with relationships, interviewed 28 people from part one of the study on their social media use (source). This part of the study found some information on how people use Snapchat, which we already covered in my last post. However to summarize, they found that participants post snippets of their everyday life and feel then can post more because of the temporary nature of Snapchat (source). These users do not use Snapchat to share intense or serious feelings (source). The most important part of the study, for our purposes, starts with the fact that participants used Snapchat mostly to keep in touch with close friends and family (source). Researchers found that participants used the app to share meaningful content that was only quickly interpretable to close ties (source). Trust was also big part of who participants chose to interact with (source). Participants tended to refrain from sending the same content they would send to close ties to weaker ties for fear of being misinterpreted (source). Moreover, according to some participants, the ephemeral nature of Snapchat mimicked the ephemeral nature of face-to-face interaction in that once something is said in face-to-face conversation it cannot be saved except in memory (source). So what does this mean in terms of Snapchat’s effect on relationships? Well, essentially it lines up with what Bayer, Ellison, Schoenebeck, and Falk found in previous research: that Snapchat helps maintain and develop relationships, particularly with close ties (source). The majority of participants in this study used Snapchat as a way to stay close with family, close friends, and people they trust and because of this Snapchat may “affirm the preferential status of a close relationship (source).” To sum up, Bayer, Ellison, Schoenebeck, and Falk state that Snapchat may “serve to prime close relationships and expand feelings of personal trust (source).”
All of these studies are just a small part of the large world of media effects, but they work to give us a fuller picture of how Snapchat may affect its users’ and users’ relationships. As you may expect from any social media app, Snapchat can have both positive and negative effects, in this case on relationships. On one hand, Snapchat can intensify, reinitiate, maintain relationships, and build trust. On the other hand, Snapchat can cause more jealousy within relationships or even help facilitate the ending of relationships. We are nowhere close to fully knowing exactly how Snapchat affects us in our relationships, and our life in general, but with studies like these we are one step closer. At its heart, Snapchat is just another way for us to communicate and engage in our relationships and with close ties , possibly more easily, through fun and “non-threatening” photos and videos of our everyday lives.