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Snapchat’s Solar System feature: What it entails and the risks it poses to teenagers

Snapchat introduced a feature called the “Friend Solar Systems” in 2022, catering primarily to its premium users, aimed at fostering closer connections among friends. The initiative was rolled out as part of Snapchat+, the platform’s premium subscription service, designed to incentivize users to subscribe by offering unique and experimental features. The Friend Solar Systems feature gamifies friendships, encouraging interaction and collaboration among users to enhance user engagement.

The Friend Solar Systems feature operates as a metaphorical representation of a solar system, with the user being the “Sun” and their eight closest friends designated as “planets” based on the frequency of interactions. These planets are ordered according to proximity to the Sun, with Mercury representing the closest friend and Neptune the farthest.

Tapping on a friend’s badge reveals their position in the solar system, reflecting the depth of the user’s connection with each friend. For socially active teenagers, particularly those active on Snapchat, the positioning of friends within the solar system holds significant emotional weight.

However, concerns have been raised regarding the potential negative impact of the Solar System feature, particularly on teenagers’ mental health. The feature’s ranking system may lead to feelings of anxiety and insecurity, especially if a user’s position drops with certain friends, such as crushes. Additionally, excessive reliance on digital rankings may negatively affect real-life relationships and contribute to unhealthy emotional attachments.

Furthermore, Snapchat’s introduction of an AI chatbot named “My AI” raises additional concerns, as teenagers may develop unhealthy emotional dependencies on virtual companions.

In response to criticism and mental health concerns, Snapchat has made the Solar System feature optional for premium users, with the default setting turned off. Subscribers have the option to manually enable the feature, highlighting the importance of social media companies considering the psychological impacts of new features, particularly on younger users.

Aside from the Friend Solar Systems feature, Snapchat+ offers a range of exclusive features for subscribers, including customizable app icons, story rewatch indicators, and personalized Bitmoji backgrounds. These features aim to enhance user experience and provide additional customization options for premium subscribers, while core Snapchat features remain accessible to all users.

Overall, Snapchat’s focus on enhancing user experience and providing additional customization options through Snapchat+ reflects the platform’s commitment to innovation and meeting the diverse needs of its user base. However, the platform must also prioritize the mental well-being of its users and implement measures to mitigate potential negative effects on younger users’ mental health.

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