Snapchat In The Workplace: Where’s It App?

By Justine Turnbull, Esq. & Shomaice Zowghi, Esq. of Seyfarth Shaw LLP

‘Snapchat is about sharing moments and having fun’ reads the tagline of the mega-app that has the fastest-growing social network in the world. But despite its phenomenal popularity, what potential impact might Snapchat have on your workplace?

If you don’t use Snapchat, here’s a quick overview: it is a mobile-only app estimated to be valued around USD $20 billion and according to Snapchat’s website, on any given day, Snapchat users watch over 10 billion videos with Snapchat reaching around 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the United States. Snapchat is definitely the medium of the moment and utilises “auto-destruct technology” allowing its user to:

  1. Send a photo or video (with filters or text added to it) to one or more contacts for up to 10 seconds (the contact must also have downloaded the Snapchat app in order to receive the photo or video);
  2. Post a video or photo to a ‘story’ which contacts can then view for a period of 24 hours (unless the user deletes it before then); and
  3. Instant message and video call a contact (but the messages will disappear when the user leaves the conversation unless they immediately save the content or take a screenshot).

Snapchat is also being increasingly used for mobile storytelling and organizations can pay to purchase the right to post a story or sponsor a filter that end users can choose to view or use. There are also event-based stories and filters that Snapchat creates. For example, during the Australian Federal Election there were special election filters and users could submit personal photos or video to the official Election Day story that could then be viewed by users. It’s predicted that over the next few years more advertising content will also be included and companies will increasingly use Snapchat for marketing and recruitment purposes.

The reason it is called auto-destruct technology is because after the time specified, the content disappears. Its distinguishing point is its impermanence, unless of course, in the case of a photo, a viewer takes a screenshot, but that requires some serious quick-draw screenshot skills and often a fumble can lead to a black locked screen of shame. As for videos, you can’t save them so once you see them, they disappear. The only other option is to replay content, but you can only do this once a day unless you pay to purchase extra replays. Even then, you can only replay any single item of content once.

Since it is a platform where content is temporary, it’s easy to imagine its appeal to a person who wants to bully or harass others in the workplace. It is much harder to collect evidence in relation to conduct occurring on Snapchat – at least, much harder than Instagram, Twitter or Facebook where content can be easily shared and captured. Snapchat’s fleeting nature potentially encourages more inappropriate and/or high-risk behavior and people often deliberately use Snapchat to share photos and videos that they wouldn’t dare to post on Facebook or Instagram.

While it is true that all digital content leaves some kind of footprint, in order to access Snapchat content after it disappears, you would have to convince Snapchat to hand over data (which is virtually impossible). The alternative would be to hire a digital forensics team to try and recover some traces of content. But where does that leave employers when someone makes allegations of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination that have occurred in the workplace via Snapchat and no evidence can be collected to prove that the conduct took place? Unfortunately it will probably result in a situation that is all too common in such scenarios – one person’s word against another.

It is estimated that by 2020, millennials will make up 50 percent of the global workforce. When you consider that Snapchat shapes the communication preferences of this generation, its inappropriate workplace use is something employers should be aware of when updating their social media policies or conducting training. Particularly for younger managers, it may be better to keep Snapchat and work colleagues separate completely. Or maybe this is impossible as more millennials and post-millennials (Generation Z) pour into the workforce.

We welcome any suggestions or thoughts.

For additional information, please contact Justine at jturnbull@seyfarth.com – +61 2 8256 0415 or Shomaice at szowghi@seyfarth.com – +61 02 8256-0407

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