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Snapchat Demotes Controversial ‘Solar System’ Feature

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Snapchat is making a change to its subscriber-only friendship “Solar System” feature after reports suggested that it’s having a negative impact on younger users.

Snapchat’s Solar System display, which is only available to Snapchat+ subscribers, shows the friends that you communicate with the most in the app with a planetary visualization.

Snapchat Solar System

As you can see, the Solar System displays the users who are within your orbit, based on engagement, with a different planet that corresponds with the actual planet’s proximity to the sun. So your best friend, for example, would be represented as Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

Snap says that it’s had “overwhelmingly positive feedback” about the feature, which is used by less than 0.25% of our Snap users each day. But some have suggested that the display inadvertently creates a ranking system among friend groups.

Which can lead to negative experiences, so Snap has now announced that it will make the Solar System display an opt-in function, as opposed to displaying it to Snapchat+ users by default.

As explained by Snap:

“We understand that even though it can feel good to know you are close to someone, it can also feel bad to know that you aren’t as close to a friend as you’d like to be. We’ve heard and understand that the Solar System can make that feeling worse, and we want to avoid that, so we’re going to turn the Solar System feature off by default so that Snapchat+ subscribers who want more friendship insights can proactively turn it on, and those who don’t will never have to see it.”

The change is mostly in response to a Wall Street Journal article, published last week, which outlined the negative effects that the feature is having on some users and their relationships.

As per WSJ:

“The young adults I spoke to with paid accounts said they’ve seen friendships splinter and young love wither due to the knowledge that someone else ranks higher on the app. Some say teens have signed up for Snapchat+ just to check their status with a crush.”

Which is probably a bit illogical, a bit of an overreaction to a simple function in an app. But also, we’ve all been teenagers, and we all know that we’d have probably at least checked in on the same if we could.

As such, it makes sense for Snap to demote the function, by making it opt-in. But really, it seems like they should just dump it entirely, because it’s not that big of a deal either way.

Like, it didn’t exist till last year, and it’s unlikely to be driving a significant amount of new sign-ups for Snapchat+.

So why not just dump it?

That’s actually what I thought Snap was announcing when I initially read today’s update, but no, it’s still going to be there, and teens are still going to use it as a rudimentary comparison of their popularity and social status.

Which, in the end, will probably see Snap abandon it anyway. Maybe, right now, it is driving enough extra Snapchat+ sign-ups to keep it around, though I suspect that it’ll eventually prove to be more trouble than it’s worth.

And that, eventually, will see it culled, at some stage.

But for now, it’s being buried a little bit more in the app. Will that stop teens from using it? No, it won’t.

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