Slingshot, the new messaging application from Facebook, isn’t about copying Snapchat. I mean, sure, the service and its self-destructing messages were obviously inspired by the app that Facebook reportedly tried to acquire for $3 billion and then blatantly copied with Poke. But thinking that Slingshot’s ephemeral messages are its defining feature would be a mistake.
Instead, it seems that Slingshot’s main purpose is encouraging Facebook users to participate in the social network’s shenanigans instead of simply scrolling through their News Feed. That might sound tedious to people who prefer to lurk on social media instead of broadcasting their every action or emotion, but it might actually be healthier than being a social media voyeur.
The Economist reported in 2013 that people tend to grow more depressed the more time they spend on Facebook after volunteers in a University of Michigan study had their activities and emotions tracked by submitting reports about both five times every day for two weeks. The finding: people who spent more time on Facebook were more depressed than those who didn’t.
“A volunteer’s sex had no influence on these findings; nor did the size of his (or her) social network, his stated motivation for using Facebook, his level of loneliness or depression or his self-esteem,” the Economist said in its report. “[Study organizers] Dr Kross and Dr Verduyn therefore conclude that, rather than enhancing well-being, Facebook undermines it.”
It’s no wonder that using something like Facebook can lead to depression. People tend to make their lives seem much more interesting on the service, with only the best photos, videos, and status updates being shared. Instead of representing someone’s life, as the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham puts it, these services are about creating some kind of digital highlights reel.
Slingshot doesn’t focus on instant communications, like so many other services do. It’s instead focusing on authentic interactions that show people as they truly are instead of allowing them to present the digital highlights reel Wortham describes. There is no lonely lurking, and there is no opportunity to share only the best moments, there is just a snapshot of someone’s life.
Facebook’s motivation for creating something like Slingshot probably has little to do with its users’ mental health. The more they visit the service the more advertisements it can serve, so there’s little reason for the company to introduce a product that defends their fragile egos. But encouraging those users to share more, and using that data, is a worthwhile goal unto itself.
A company can only gather so much information from people who stalk their ex-lovers on its service without ever sharing something on their own. Slingshot will allow it to gather more data and, if it’s lumped in with Facebook’s other mobile applications, allow the company to claim that people are using its mobile products more than they were before its introduction.
Allowing people to share their lives — their actual lives, their I didn’t-have-a-chance-to-filter-this-image lives, the lives they’re living when no Likes are involved — is just a fringe benefit. So this truly isn’t a Snapchat clone, as the Verge says in its report; it’s something else entirely.
Though I might need to be more specific. Slingshot isn’t just a Snapchat clone — it still has the self-destructing messages of its predecessor, and Snapchat also forces people to share images taken in the moment instead of ideal snapshots of their lives, so Slingshot still owes the service something. But the idea of making people respond to a message sight unseen while bringing authenticity and healthy interactions to a vapid, unhealthy service? That’s all Slingshot.