Location, location, location

The normalization of location sharing on Snapchat is hurting our generation

By on October 23, 2018

You just woke up. Still in bed, you scroll through Facebook, answer any texts you missed while you were sleeping and finally, you open Snapchat. First things first, you send your streaks. Then maybe tap through some stories. And since about a year and a half ago, your next stop is your Snap Map.

Design by Madison Fraitag
Location sharing has become part of the social media experience ever since Snapchat launched Snap Maps on June 21, 2017. In the announcement, the photo sharing app stated, “We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!”

“See what’s happening.” The map features location stories, allowing funny moments and memories to be publically shared at landmarks, events, universities or popular locations. Fine, I’m on board.

“Get inspired to go on an adventure.” The feature allows users to see a map of the world, allowing access to any location story, maybe actually inspiring a trip to a prominent location. Okay, sure.

“Find your friends.” Here’s where Snapchat lost me.

Location sharing technology is absolutely a benefit to society. It aids law enforcement agencies in finding missing persons, it helps particularly forgetful people locate their missing devices and can give parents peace of mind when sending their kids out with cell phones for the first time. In that sense, location tracking is absolutely justified and helpful.

To be candid, I have used location tracking apps to check on a friend. After a night out, when a friend is running late, when someone isn’t answering or in a similar situation, I have checked a friend’s location to ensure their safety. I am not an exception in this social media movement.

The technology itself isn’t what I have a problem with, it’s the normalization of “finding your friends” that Snapchat has initiated with Snap Maps.

And it seems as though many Bobcats agree with me. In an informal poll taken on The Chronicle’s Instagram page (@quchronicle) that drew in 95 responses, 42 said they are sharing their location on Snapchat while 53 are not. Very similarly, in a separate poll with 99 responses, 44 replied that they do frequently check their Snap Map for friends’ locations, while 55 do not. While the Bobcats may be split, I simply can’t get on board with the idea of Snap Maps.

There are several reasons why I think Snapchat users should opt out of switching on their normalized tracking device, but perhaps the most relevant one to QU students is the havoc location sharing can wreak on relationships. 

Whether it’s your best friend, roommate, significant other or any other fellow Bobcat, no good can come from tracking one another.

Having another person’s location readily available at all times will lead to toxicity and mistrust. Snap Maps allows a person to fact check their friends’ or significant others’ every move, whether its if they’re home or if they went out without them. With locations at your fingertips, there is no foundation of trust being built in a relationship and therefore there will always be doubt and dishonesty. And while Snap Maps allows you to select Snapchat friends to view your location, odds are you won’t be scanning your friends to rule out the ones most likely to stalk you.

Location tracking can impact people in worse ways than just identifying their creepy friends, it can get in the way of self care and academic growth. In a third poll on @quchronicle, 16 followers revealed that someone has physically located and approached them after tracking their location on Snapchat. Whether those people were home, on campus or anywhere else, odds are they didn’t share their location with the intention of attracting company. In my experience, friends have complained of being bothered while studying in the library and having unwarranted visitors to their dorms when they felt they needed quiet time alone. It is simply unacceptable, disrespectful and unnatural to be showing up at someone’s doorstep unannounced.

For students particularly, it is selfish and rude to approach a friend who is studying or relaxing based on their location. We are all under so much constant pressure and deserve the luxury of being alone when we so choose. And while, yes, you can disable your location services manually when you want some alone time, you should never have to push a button to gain some personal space.

I personally have had friends attempt to find my home away from QU based on my Snap Map location (before I turned it off.) This bothered me not because I didn’t want to see my friends or because I didn’t want them knowing where I live, but rather because I realized that dozens of people, some of whom I do not know personally, could do the exact same thing with different intent.

Which brings me to my third point. Sharing your location on any social media platform is unsafe. It is likely that you do not personally know every single person that you’re “friends” with on Snapchat, but through a minor oversight in safety, you could be showing them where you live, where you work, where you study, where you relax, where your family and friends live and every other location you frequent. It’s sad but it simply is not safe to reveal this information to anyone that you don’t know well.

In a rare but very real case, a French Snapchat user tracked his girlfriend down to find she was cheating and, armed upon arrival, stabbed the man she was with, according to an article by csoonline.com. That said, it isn’t only strangers that can cause you harm through location sharing, it can be your significant others too.

With all of this going against it, there are some redeeming qualities to social media location sharing. For example, Snap Maps allows you to enable “Ghost Mode” for periods of three or 24 hours rather than enabling it indefinitely. It also gives users on “Ghost Mode” the option of allowing friends to request their location, similarly to the iPhone app Find My Friends. It has also allowed for instant communication during natural disasters and other times of crisis. However, I simply don’t see it as a necessary or beneficial trend.

In an survey also conducted by @quchronicle, several students identified reasons that they have chosen to omit their location from their Snapchat profiles. One user wrote “I think it is an invasion of privacy,” while another wrote, “I used to not care, but became uncomfortable with it the more I actually thought about it.”

Clearly, the Bobcats agree. Location sharing is a damaging practice and is hurting far more than helping our generation. I urge you to check if you are sharing your location and make an educated choice to keep it to yourself.

So tomorrow when you wake up, check Facebook, check your texts, send your streaks but please leave Snap Maps out of the picture.

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About Madison Fraitag

Creative Director
Film, Television and Media Major
Class of 2019