SnapChat, or as many refer to as the "sexting app," has shared more than a billion "snaps" since being introduced in July. Worldwide, more than 20 million different, sometimes compromising or explicit, snaps are shared every day.
If you're like me and missed this craze because the demographic skews young, this is the basic rundown. Unlike photo-sharing apps like Instagram, which shows a stream of photos from a group of friends that you follow, SnapChat works more like text messaging: once a picture gets snapped, it gets chatted. It also has a timing component, in that the photo only exists for a set amount of time from one to 10 seconds. Once a recipient opens his or her chat, s/he can only view it for that amount of time. Then the photo "disappears."
On Dec. 31 Facebook came out with a similar app called "Poke" (sexual pun probably intended). Like SnapChat, Poke has a time-bomb component: users can choose how long someone sees a poke before it, too, "disappears."
Any information shared is supposed to go poof after a few seconds. But what too many people don't realize, very often underage women, "disappears" is not the same as "deleting." Studies of both applications have found that information hangs around in a hidden spot despite vanishing from view - a user simply has to plug her or his smartphone into a computer, navigate to the phone's internal storage, and find the folders for Snapchat and Poke.
Additionally, recipients can simply take a picture of their cell phone screen (i.e. a potentially explicit picture) with another device.
This news is extremely troubling in the wake of Amanda Todd's death last October. Five weeks before the Canadian teenager committing suicide, she posted a YouTube video detailing years of harassment she'd undergone after being coaxed to flash an anonymous guy via webcam. She describes how the man blackmailed her into performing live-streamed strip shows, threatening to send her topless images to friends and family if she didn't comply.
Mainstream media covered Amanda's death. But this kind of "cyberbullying" is not an isolated incident.
Just recently the hacktivist collective Anonymous threaten the former owner of a "revenge porn" website. Hunter Moore used to post sexual images of men and women without their permission, along with links to their social networking profiles. He sold the site, IsAnyoneUp.com, to an anti-bullying charity in April. Until that point it had gained notoriety for publishing pornographic pictures of people - all age groups from all over the world - sent in by disgruntled ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.
He also said he would launch a new site soon, saying he would also post home addresses.
Speaking about his new venture, which has not yet launched, he added: "This time I am doing it right. I am creating something that (you) will question if you ever want to have kids."
Predators who monitor such sites share the links with fellow stalkers and pedophiles in chat rooms on smaller sites like Chateen and Vichatter.
One of the most popular mediums for distributing these images is a message board called AnonIB, or Anonymous Image Board. ScreenCAPS (free screen capturing software) are categorized into subforums that correspond with various webcam chat sites. There are also subforums for different states and Canadian provinces, allowing these pedophiles to maintain a filing system for their images and keep track of where in the world the people live, as well as where they tend to hang out on the Internet.
Those who log these images call themselves "cappers."
Cappers are competitive within the community - who can capture the most lewd photos. These rivalries were highlighted in a onetime Daily Capper ceremony in 2010 during which several awards were handed out, including one for Blackmailer of the Year. The twisted honor went to Kody1206, the capper Anonymous accused of blackmailing Amanda Todd.
I'm not suggesting that the creators of SnapChat and Poke are of the same caliber as cappers, stalkers or pedophiles. But these applications are obviously amplifying cyberbullying. It's disturbing that they're not being held accountable.