Uthara Ganesh, head of public policy, India and South Asia, Snap Inc. S
napchat is one of the most popular social media platforms, especially for teenagers, in India and across the world. The platform has a user base of 200 million users in India and several million worldwide, as per Uthara Ganesh, head of public policy, India and South Asia, Snap Inc. On September 7, at the ‘Snap Smart’ event in Mumbai which also hosted a panel discussion on ‘Teen Safety’, Snap introduced new safety features on the platform for 13 to 17-year-old users. Besides Ganesh, the panel included actor Shefali Shah, popular Snapchat user/influencer Nitanshi Goel, and Mansi Zaveri, founder, Kidsstopress.
In conversation with Forbes India, Ganesh, who has been working as the head of public policy at Snap, and has over a decade of public policy experience, spoke about what makes Snapchat stand out among other social media platforms and how the platform is working extensively on introducing safety and privacy features for its user base, which consists largely of teenagers. Edited excerpts: Q. What is the story behind Snapchat?
When Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy got the idea of Snapchat, having grown up with the original social media generation, they noted that social media became the space where everyone was putting out a really perfect version of their lives and themselves. And there was almost this competition for likes, followers, friends and content. All of social media had become a consumption focused feed and really didn't reflect the real world so much. Evan and Bobby's intention, from just a pure value proposition perspective, was to create a sort of antidote for social media. Q. Can you speak a bit on the design of the app? What makes it different from other social media platforms?
The design of the app is very intentional. We open into the camera as opposed to opening into a feed. What that does is again a very intentional design nudge that encourages the user to interact with the real world, take a picture of themselves, and interact with their friends. On the left side of the app is Maps and Chat, which is the social part of the app. And on the right side of the app is the Stories page and Spotlight, which is the media part. There is a very intentional separation of social and media. Also read: Which social networks have the highest usage among Gen Z and millennials?Q. Snapchat has a significant user base of 13-to-17-year-olds. What specific measures has Snapchat already implemented to ensure the safety and well-being of this demographic on the platform?
For the safety of teenagers, as well as all Snapchat users, an important feature on Snapchat, in relation to Maps, is that by default your location is turned off, to enable privacy, and a user can turn it on only if they want to. Another important design feature is ephemeral chats. Let's say you and I meet at the coffee shop and talk socially. It's an ephemeral conversation, there's no record happening, and Snapchat is really trying to mirror real-world interactions. That's why this iconic idea of deleting chats after one has read them. To ensure safety on the media part of the app, everything that goes up is thoroughly curated or moderated. We have partners in the media who are actual publishers with credibility. The old-school focus on moderation on the media part of the app and the privacy enhancing sort of design decisions on the social part of the app are what Snap has done in a sense to make it seem like a place where young people are just having a fun time and talking to their actual friends as opposed to getting consumed by their feeds or having their content mixed up with the news and other sorts of articles. Last year we introduced this feature called ‘Family Center' where the parents can have some level of oversight on how their teenagers use the platform. When it comes to safety features on the app, they are constantly evolving. Also read: Which social networks are most useful for brands?Q. Can you give an overview of the new safeguards and features Snapchat has introduced to protect 13-to-17-year-old Snapchatters from potential online harms?
Our new features are an extension of the already set-in safety features on the app. Number one, our intention is to ensure that there is no unwanted contact from strangers to 13 to 17-year-olds. If any such contact is made where a teenager is contacted by somebody who is not on their contact list, and does not have a lot of mutual friends with them, a pop-up message will appear in the chat that says, “Hey, are you sure you want to continue having this conversation?” What we’re doing is trying to encourage critical thinking amongst young people who are using online platforms because we believe it's really important for them to have agency but also have some sort of ability to discern and make good decisions.
The second feature is a ‘Strike’ system, as per which Snap immediately removes inappropriate content that it proactively detects or that gets reported. If an account is repeatedly trying to circumvent rules, the app bans that account. And lastly, as Snapchat continues to bolster defences against risks, the platform also wants to use its reach with young people to help them spot likely signs of this type of activity – and what to do if they encounter it. We are introducing the Snapchat community to access new in-app content developed in partnership with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). This collaboration aims to create a more positive, responsible, and secure online environment for the youth by addressing critical topics like mental health, responsible sharing, and online safety. This content will be featured on the Stories platform, and surfaced to Snapchatters by relevant search terms or keywords. With these features, we hope to have a powerful impact on the safety of our community.