Expiring Content

What is expiring content?

Expiring, or ephemeral content is content that disappears after it has been viewed, or that is only available for a certain amount of time.

Children and young people are growing up in a digital world where services such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all have features which allow users to post things that will eventually expire. It can be in many different forms and it’s important to recognise that expiring content is a way of messaging and sharing photos that many young people use every day.

Types of expiring content:

  • Stories Open or Close

    Stories are a feature within many apps including Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. This is where users can capture and post images and video content in a slideshow format. Content is usually available for only 24 hours from the time of posting. Stories also allow the addition of text, drawings and emojis to images or video clips. There are even features such as questions or polls which allow direct interaction with followers and audiences for a set amount of time.

  • Direct messages Open or Close

    A direct message (DM) is a private form of communication between social media users that is only visible to the sender and recipient(s). Not all direct messages will expire, but some platforms including Snapchat and Instagram allow users to send expiring direct messages. After someone opens an disappearing expiring photo or video that they’ve been sent, the message is no longer visible, unless the sender has allowed the replay function.

  • Photos/Images/'Snaps' Open or Close

    Most of the popular social media apps among young people offer the feature of sending a photo, image or ‘snap’ to another person or group of people. ‘Snaps’ refers to images shared on Snapchat. These images normally can expire after they have been viewed once, however they can sometimes be replayed. Remember that even though the image may expire, a screenshot can still be taken, and the content can then be kept or shared on.

  • Videos Open or Close

    This is where a user will post a video to their story, profile or in a direct message. In most cases, the video expires in 24 hours. However, Facebook offer the option of choosing the expiration time/date of videos that you post.

  • Questions and Polls Open or Close

    Features such as questions or polls allow direct interaction with followers and audiences for a set amount of time.

  • Statuses Open or Close

    Some apps, such as WhatsApp, offer users the opportunity to create a temporary status. The status disappears after 24 hours of the user uploading it. You can share photos, videos, text, links, and GIFs. If your account is private, then only your friends or followers will see this, however if you have a public account then anyone can view this before it expires.

  • Livestreaming Open or Close

    Livestreaming can also be a form of expiring content, although on some services this footage is recorded and available to view after the livestream has ended. For further information and advice, take a look at the Hot Topic for livestreaming here.

Why are young people using it?

When we asked a group of over 1000 young people aged 8-17 in the UK what they use expiring content for, the most common responses overall were to message friends, to share something funny and to entertain their friends. They also said they enjoy using filters and special effects, and that it helps them to stop feeling bored. Over half of the young people said they use it to share something that isn’t that important, with some saying they use it to share pictures or videos that they don’t want everyone to see. Just over a quarter of young people said they use expiring content to share something that they wouldn’t feel safe sharing another way.

Overall, young people are using expiring content because it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s exciting and it gives them the opportunity to share content they might not want permanently on their profile. For further insight into youth perspectives on expiring content, take a look at this research study.


What are the risks?

  • People may share more private and risky content as they believe it disappears.

  • There is the potential for information to be taken and shared on by others even after it has expired. For example, screen shots can be taken of the content on many services, including Snapchat.

  • Expiring content can be used by online bullies and can make reporting more difficult for the victim if they are unable to screenshot the content as evidence before it disappears.

Advice for children who are under, and over 13 years of age:

Conversation starter ideas: