‘Everyone’s Biggest Fear:’ Snapchat Fuels Teen Anxiety with ‘Friend-Ranking’ Feature

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Snapchat’s friend ranking feature, part of its paid subscription service, is exacerbating feelings of insecurity and anxiety among teenagers by quantifying their social status within their friend group. The feature is just another example of how Silicon Valley titans place tremendous pressure on today’s teens to be part of the “in crowd,” leading one teen to explain, “It’s everyone’s biggest fear put onto an app.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Snapchat, the popular social media app used by over 20 million U.S. teens, has come under scrutiny for a controversial paid feature that ranks friends based on their level of interaction. The app’s $4-per-month Snapchat+ subscription includes a friend solar system that shows users where they stand with each friend, represented by planets. The closer the planet, the higher the friendship ranking.

15-year-old Callie Schietinger from Yorktown, New York, experienced firsthand how this feature can fuel drama and misunderstandings in young relationships. “A lot of kids my age have trouble differentiating best friends on Snapchat from actual best friends in real life,” she said. Callie dealt with an upset boyfriend who noticed he was ranked lower than one of her male friends.

Parents and experts are expressing concern over the mental health impact of features like these. “You have to wonder if all this fear of being left out is part of the mental-health problems kids are facing,” said Callie’s mother, Erica Bates. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has warned about the effects of social media on youth, noting that adolescents are especially vulnerable to peer pressure and social comparison.

While Snap says the majority of Snapchat+ users are over 18 and that the feature can be turned off, critics argue it still capitalizes on the social insecurities of impressionable teens. “It’s everyone’s biggest fear put onto an app,” Callie said. “Ranking is never good for anyone’s head.”

Isabelle da Costa, a 20-year-old college student, recalls the angst and drama caused by Snapchat’s former “best friends” feature that publicly displayed top friend rankings. “There’s something about the teenage brain that thrives on drama, and Snapchat facilitates it well,” she said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed legislation to protect minors in the state from the negative impacts of social media. As Breitbart News reported:

The legislation, H.B. 3, outlines online protection for minors on social media platforms, requiring some to “prohibit certain minors from creating new accounts” and “requiring social media platforms to terminate certain accounts and provide additional options for termination of such accounts,” according to a summary of the bill.

The bill also provides “conditions under which social media platforms are required to prohibit certain minors from entering into contracts to become account holders.” In other words, minors 14 and 15 will not be able to create accounts on the apps without parental consent.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal here.


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