Snapchat private stories: a sneak peek into our lives. A behind-the-scenes look into our most eventful and most mundane moments. A place for us to publicize what we’re doing and what we’re thinking to a select group of people. And carefully deciding who you select is half the fun.
Private stories, unlike public Snapchat stories, are intended for the user to choose only their friends to be viewers. But, despite this intent, is that really what they’re used for? While these private stories may seem like a fun, harmless way to mass message your friends, there is strategy to it.
You can create a special private story with just your crush to show how desirable and fun you are. Or you could make one for your enemies to send a cryptic message. Others opt for the risky but daring large private story — one with over 100 people — to create a false facade of friendship; after all, if you add someone onto your story, they will probably feel obligated to add you on theirs. Snapchat users my age have perfected this transaction with pristine accuracy. The sentimental few choose the private story that is strictly for their closest friends to commemorate their most vulnerable moments.
These possibilities flooded through my mind when I first created my own private story as a sophomore in high school. Proud of my witty name-play, I titled my story “Kavyasssssss” and promptly added all my friends as viewers. And here, the term “friends” becomes tricky to define. I had people in my social group at school with whom I ate lunch but never talked to outside of school. However, I couldn’t risk their finding out about my story and being offended by not being on it. So, I definitely had to grant them a spot on my coveted viewer list. And then there were people I played sports with but didn’t talk to outside of the season. We talked all the time in season, so I was obligated to include them, too. Of course, there were people whose stories I was on, so I naturally had to extend the offer — a kind of symbiotic offering.
After the grueling deliberation, I had finally made my story and the viewer list, using the pseudo–video diary as a way to update people on my life. Videos of my dog, complaints about my AP World History homework and pictures of me hanging out with friends made up the groundbreaking highlight reel of my fifteen-year-old life. But, beyond these essential updates, I loved to upload funny content: dumb memes, inside jokes and ugly pictures of myself. My humor was validated by my friends telling me, “Oh my gosh, I love your story,” responding to my posts both in person and online.
Soon, I began to feel like I was performing for an audience. After posting something I thought was particularly funny, I would frequently check my phone to see if anyone had “swiped up” in response to it — a visualized laugh track I soon became devoted to. And, when I did see the blue text icon next to my friends’ Bitmojis — an indication of a written chat — my curiosity spiked to see what they had written. Confirmation of my humor made me feel an artificial sense of proximity with people whom I rarely talked to, yet still deemed close enough to be on my story. I began to view my story not as an outlet for me to share parts of my life, but as a means of entertaining my viewers.
I also began to see my stories as a means of quantifying popularity. “This girl has more people on her story … that must mean that she has more friends than me,” I thought to myself.
I fashioned myself into a wannabe data analyst, studying the metrics of my social life as if they were a complex theory. I checked who viewed my first story post compared to my second in order to see if I was retaining people’s attention. And this consumerist mode of thinking and tracking only continued when I came to college.
Your college-aged years are commonly described as the “best four years of your life,” making me feel an immense pressure to have fun, or at least show I was having fun. I needed to prove myself to my high school friends by uploading pictures with people I had just met. Who could have peaked in high school when they were having such a good time in college? I felt the same pull in the opposite direction: When I went home for breaks, I wanted to show off fun times with my hometown friends, broadcasting standout moments on my Snapchat, curating life’s moments into a picture-perfect collage. This time, my selected audience would be made up of University friends, whom I was determined to impress with snapshots of my supposedly-stellar home life.
It is an interesting phenomenon to experience: I feel almost like a social media influencer, producing content specifically for my followers’ consumption rather than for myself. I control the audience on my private story, yet the audience also controls me. Private stories give the illusion of raw authenticity. In reality, they constitute a potentially damaging extension of virtually every other social media platform. It is a way to share the highlights while excluding coverage of any adversity. Even in the times when I do show potential negative aspects of my life, like my annoyance with dining hall food and stress over work, I selectively choose fatuous situations to post. While I might upload a picture of me crying over studying economics, I would not post a picture of me crying over missing home.
This distinction between what is digestible for my viewers and what I am truly experiencing demonstrates just how performative my private story truly is. As Shakespeare said: All the world’s a stage, even the worlds you supposedly have the agency to create yourself.
So, is there any way to counter this thinking? The surest method would have to be completely removing oneself from social media and deleting the applications, leaving no evidence nor any possible way to obsess over such frivolous issues. However, being in college — a time when many people use platforms like Snapchat to connect and communicate with their peers — this doesn’t seem very realistic.
Social media platforms, especially Snapchat’s private story function, are designed to be addictive — they are clearly succeeding in this endeavor. Even if you select your closest friends for your private story, you ultimately post with the goal of others viewing it and hopefully affirming your curated content. But will this always be the case? Can we ever make private stories truly private — a place where we feel like we can express our deepest emotions? Or is their sole purpose to share parts of our lives for an audience?
Perhaps the solution to such questions is pure anonymity. Social media platforms such as YikYak allow us to truly share how we feel and discuss our experiences to the world, regardless of how personal they are. Rather than feigning positivity or fun times with friends, people across college campuses are honest about their struggles: academic, social, personal, familial.
But, as for now, it seems like private stories aren’t going anywhere. Platforms such as Instagram have replicated the Snapchat private stories through the “close friends” story option. Perhaps more social media sites will follow suit. In any regard, we have to be cognizant of the dangers of such media. We must place our mental health first, and to do so, we must be honest with our personal struggles.
We have to live for ourselves rather than perform for the audience we create for ourselves.
Statement Columnist Kavya Uppalapati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.