A few nights ago I watched a feature length documentary called Catfish…

For those who haven’t seen it, the film follows twenty-four year old New Yorker Nev and his internet friendships with eight year old Abby, her nineteen year old sister Megan and their mother Angela. Nev falls in love with Megan, and they start a romantic relationship – even though they have never met and only communicate via technology. After months of calls, emails, x-rated texts and general Facebook activity, the whole thing unravels in spectacular style when Nev, his brother Rel and their friend Henry travel from New York to Michigan to surprise Megan… Because Megan doesn’t exist.

Instead they find Angela – a middle aged painter who has 21 different Facebook profiles for people she has invented. Nev now presents an MTV show also called Catfish. I’ve only ever seen one episode in which Nev helped a college student find out that his beautiful Facebook girlfriend Amanda was actually a shy teenage boy named Aaron. If you want to watch American people discover they’ve been deceived for a number of months/years whilst shouting ‘how could you be so stupid?!!’ at your TV, tune in and aim your jaw at the floor.

It’s a strange, interesting and unsettling reality TV show that appears to exist solely because of Facebook. But with the reported decline in teen users on Facebook as Snapchat and Whatsapp take over, are teenagers (and people like Nev) any better off with a closed social network?

On the surface, yes. But delve a little deeper and in theory they could be worse. I use Snapchat and whilst I’m not advocating it as being child-friendly, at least I do know the people who send me pictures. The danger here is that no one else knows what is going on….which is why all the kids are on there in the first place.

Facebook recently made a $3 billion bid to purchase Snapchat. Just to hammer home the insanity behind this offer, Snapchat is a 20-person company that lets you send disappearing photos – it has no revenue and processes around 350 million photo uploads per day – the same as Facebook, who also get an additional 55 million daily uploads via Instagram. But the mention of Instagram is where the offer stops being insane: Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012 for $1 billion when Instagram was about one-fifth its current size. Facebook made the purchase, Instagram got big. You can now see why they fancy a shot at Snapchat.

(Source: Elite Daily)

Facebook wants to continue its reign as the dominant photo-sharing site, but the next generation have learnt from our (often very public) mistakes. They keep their photos private – away from parents, teachers and potential employers. They will never be tagged in an incriminating picture and they can sleep safe in the knowledge that their mum isn’t about to upload embarrassing shots of them as a baby. Their pictures are their own (although the images help Snapchat to create opportunities to show ads, there’s no Instagram ‘we own your photos’ type deal) and they don’t get bombarded by adverts. Yet….

If Snapchat merged with Facebook it would ruin it. Snapchat may be filled with pictures of people on the toilet but its owners appear to value what their users want over their bank balance. Snapchat turned down Facebooks generous offer, continuing to keep teenage antics hidden from interfering grown-ups. Which means that while the older Generation Y (1982 – 1991) are easy prey to sponsored posts on Facebook, young Generation Y (1991 – 2000) and Generation Z (2000+) are going to be a much trickier audience to advertise to… until the owners of Snapchat realise its ad revenue value. So for those kids searching for an ad free social network – good luck. You’ll need it.

  • Aleks Szymanski

    Snapchat founders should take the money and run. Monetizing SnapChat by displaying ads over the top of or next to pictures is never going to work. 12-18 year olds don’t want ads at all, ever. The $3bn (or $4bn if believe rumors that Google wants to acquire as well) perceived value is plain crazy. Instagram still hasn’t figured out how to make ads work. If SnapChat is not elegant in its approach to making money, like its photos, its value will disappear in 10 seconds.