The new Snapchat emoji are creating a teen caste system

Snapchat was never any good at keeping secrets.


Molly McHugh


Published Apr 7, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 3:30 am CDT

When Snapchat removed the ability to see users’ best friends, there was something of an uproar. The feature was a social status indicator—it created coveted friendships within the vast community of teen Snapchatters.

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Being “old,” I can’t personally speak to its importance, but I’ve come to understand it as the digital version of wearing those half-heart necklaces that say “friends 4 eva.” It was visible, obvious, public, and intimate at the same time. 

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Yesterday, Snapchat brought best friends back, but it reimagined the entire construct of tiered friendships with its relationship emoji. Now, instead of a tiny little icon indicating your closest Snapchat contact, there’s an entire catalog of images that dictate what the people you Snap with mean to you.

The emoji are fun and cute, as emoji always are, but you can’t add a directory of visual relationship quantifiers without things getting competitive and confusing. 

What if the person whom you thought was your best friend actually had the smirk emoji next to your name? What if your significant other has the fire emoji next to his or her ex? What if you have the fire emoji next to your ex?

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The emoji update means nothing to casual Snapchat users like me. It’s fun and cute, and we’re moving right along. But for those whose lives revolve around using Snapchat as a major platform for communication, creativity, and socializing—namely, teens—chaos has descended.

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A certain competitiveness has also emerged. 

Other complaints stem from the fact that Snapchat got it wrong. 

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It’s not all overwhelming negativity, though. Teens have also expressed curiosity and even approval at their emoji-based relationship assignments.

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The age of FOMO is officially over. From now on it will be Snapchat emoji envy and outing that causes Internet-age friendship anxiety. 

It’s funny how an app that emphasizes disappearing messages and secret conversations has become the great relationship-outer of our time.

So much for ephemerality. 

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Illustration by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Apr 7, 2015, 7:39 am CDT