Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author

Does Your SnapChat Pic Really Get Deleted?:

Social Media, Digital Trails, and Your Reputation

This is the first posting in a "Special Week Long Series on Social Media and Communication" so make sure you check back for updates throughout the week! And don't forget to click "Share Article" below to quickly and easily post to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites!

Although social networking has long been a way to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, the advent of social media has made the process of making connections and those all-important first impressions much more complex. 

Just looking at Facebook as an example, we can clearly see that the very acts of constructing a profile, posting status updates, "liking" certain things, and sharing various information via Facebook features and apps is self-presentation.[i] People also form impressions based on the number of friends we have and the photos and posts that other people tag us in. All this information floating around can be difficult to manage. So how do we manage the impressions we make digitally given that there is a permanent record?

Research shows that people overall engage in positive and honest self-presentation on Facebook.[ii] Since people know how visible the information they post is, they may choose to only reveal things they think will form favorable impressions. But the mediated nature of Facebook also leads some people to disclose more personal information than they might otherwise in such a public or semipublic forum.

These hyperpersonal disclosures run the risk of forming negative impressions based on who sees them. In general, the ease of digital communication, not just on Facebook, has presented new challenges for our self-control and information management.

Sending someone a sexually provocative image used to take some effort before the age of digital cameras, but now "sexting" an explicit photo only takes a few seconds. So people who would have likely not engaged in such behavior before are more tempted to now, and it is the desire to present oneself as desirable or cool that leads people to send photos they may later regret.[iii]

In fact, new apps give people a little more control over the exchange of digital information. The app "SnapChat" allows users to send photos that will only be visible for a few seconds. Although this isn’t a guaranteed safety net, the demand for such apps is increasing, which illustrates the point that we all now leave digital trails of information that can be useful in terms of our self-presentation but can also create new challenges in terms of managing the information floating around from which others may form impressions of us.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What impressions do you want people to form of you based on the information they can see on your Facebook page?
  2. Have you ever used social media or the Internet to do “research” on a person? What things would you find favorable and unfavorable?
  3. Do you have any guidelines you follow regarding what information about yourself you will put online or not? If so, what are they? If not, why?

[i] Junghyun Kim and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee, “The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14, no. 6 (2011): 360.

[ii] Junghyun Kim and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee, “The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14, no. 6 (2011): 360.

[iii] Natalie DiBlasio, “Demand for Photo-Erasing iPhone App Heats up Sexting Debate,” USA Today, May 7, 2012, accessed June 6, 2012, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2012/05/demand-for-photo-erasing-iphone-app-heats-up-sexting-debate/1.

Update on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 3:14PM by Richard G. Jones, Jr., Ph.D.

After I published this, I came across this recent story that explains that SnapChat files are deleted and it explains how.