Last year, Gabriela, 26, had a crush on a dude. She was living in New York, and he was cute, and they took to Snapchatting each other — a lot. He was always vague about where they stood, which inspired a constant swell of anxiety in her. You know the sort: Does this person like me as much as I like them? What's going on? What are we? Am I making it all up? And so on.
The one glimmer of hope, though, was all the ways that Snapchat reinforced their connection by way of emoji: a burning flame next to his name, a blushing face — all the ways that the app quantifies our relationships with our friends.
But something still troubled Gabriela. "As much as we would snap," she told Mic, "he was always my No. 1 friend but I was never his No. 1." If she were, she'd have seen a yellow heart, the app's ultimate status symbol. "So I knew someone else was his #1 friend."
One day when they were hanging out, he asked her to snap him doing something, and she caught a glimpse of who his number one really was: his ex.
"Since that day," she said, "I knew we'd never really be anything." Cue your favorite sad-face emoji.
Each social platform has carved its own terrible niche into our hearts and souls. Instagram, with its beach body photos and green juice brags, inspires jealousy; Facebook and Twitter, with their trite memes and political screeds, inspire rage.
But Snapchat inspires betrayal and angst in small ways. One of these is how it measures our relationships by ranking them according to its own peculiar emoji language. When those ranks change — or when we realize the existence of other relationships through snaps and sleuthing — the app can pit people against each other in much the same way as a high school queen bee would. In short, Snapchat is the Regina George of apps.
Past the emoji-ranking feature, there are other tiny facets of Snapchat that inspire insecurity or rage. Maybe you received a snap from a friend and thought it was only for you, and then later saw it in the sender's story: Immediately, you feel less special, and also confused. Why send you something individually, then volley it out to the masses as well?
Then there's the chronological list of who has watched your story. Gabriela had a theory here: "Basically, the first people to look at your snap story are the thirstiest," she explained, "and the ones who wait until the next day — right before it disappears — are low-key thirsty."
Screenshotting, of course, can be the most egregious form of treason of all: If you've sent a nude or an intimate message to a potential mate, and they screenshot it, you get a notification, and likely a rollercoaster-level drop in your stomach. Snapchat's potential for scandal runs deep.
While the app can cause serious drama in romantic relationships, it has the power to cause rifts in our platonic friendships as well.
"I've seen one of my friends snapping my ex-boyfriend, and that made me a little angry," Bella, a 19-year-old college student, told Mic. "She said that it was nothing, just some stupid conversation over Snapchat, but it still makes me uncomfortable because I won't know, and no one will ever know, what that conversation was about."
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all started out as platforms used to push out content to a sea of followers: Here I am with my cat, here I am with my family, here I am sharing a particularly interesting article or hilarious video, here I am with my opinions. Interaction was limited to commenting and liking; chat and messaging were secondary. But Snapchat led with individual messaging first. The weight of the app lies in the individual relationships it fosters, and the way it attacks their cracks.
And unlike a text or a DM, a snap has the potential to be — or at least appear — wholly irreverent. Earnestness carries no weight here. The app's language is a glib one: "Look at this dog I found on the street, looking cute. Look at this pile of trash. Look at this funny shirt. Look at me!"
"If there's a guy I want to talk to but I don't want to formally text him and start a conversation, I'll send him a Snapchat of something random or funny, or a selfie with words on it," Bella explained.
In short, Snapchat is the ultimate manifestation of the pressure to be chill. "It's less formal, because texting feels like you're going out of your way," Bella told Mic. "Texting was [originally] an easier way of calling, and now Snapchat is an easier way of texting. Send a picture, type what you want — there's no pressure that that person has to reply."
The process is far more low-key, at least at face value. Even adding someone on Snapchat is less of a commitment, less a dramatic flirt, than a Facebook add. You can't really stalk anyone on Snapchat — there's no history to scroll through, no photos from 2009 to reminisce about.
The stakes here should be low — they pretend to be low, just as Regina George pretends to like your bracelet — but of course they're not.
What's most painful about the conflict that arises from Snapchat is that it's a petty sort of evidence when you want to bring up what's bothering you, be it something you saw in a snap or the way a recent interaction made you feel. "Using such a silly platform makes you feel dumb for bringing your anxiety into it," Gabriela explained.
Getting angry over your boyfriend liking his ex's selfie — which, sure, maybe showed up on your Instagram follow page — might feel like a legitimate reason for anger. But how can you have a serious, grown-up conversation about something that makes you feel betrayed or unloved when that something is an image covered in stars and kisses, or framed in a filter sponsored by the city of San Francisco?
All of this makes our relationship with the app fraught: So what's it going to be, Snapchat? Do you want our interactions to mean nothing, or everything? Are you boosting the value of our relationships, or cooling them off? Or are you fully aware that our dedication to your app lies somewhere in this tension between our desires for each interaction to mean everything and for nothing to mean anything?
So what's it going to be, Snapchat? Do you want our interactions to mean nothing, or everything? Are you boosting the value of our relationships, or cooling them off? Or are you fully aware that our dedication to your app lies somewhere in this tension between our desires for each interaction to mean everything and for nothing to mean anything?
Of course, it's the latter. Of course Snapchat keeps us coming back with promises of irreverent fun, while keeping us up at night with its politics. In trying to define our relationships with emoji, the app has created its own miniature social structures, and with them its own miniature social anxieties. For some, these don't exist: It's just a fun way to share images with friends. But for others, Snapchat is quick to stir resentment in us, at least silently, allowing tensions to build like the wayward flames of a fire emoji.