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Deleting Messages – An Online Safety Guide

2022-10-03T13:01:27+01:00

Last Updated on 3rd October 2022

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Have you ever sent a message, and immediately wished you could unsend it? Many messaging options on popular platforms are starting to make this wish come true by offering a ‘deleting messages’ feature.

Our online safety experts have taken a look at the various options to help parents and carers stay informed on how the children and young people in their care may be deleting messages, and the risks that may be present.

What is it?

This feature allows users to permanently delete messages they have sent (text, audio, video, and images) for their own device and/or all devices the message was sent to.

While they are similar, this feature is different from the popular ‘disappearing messages’ feature, which sees messages become unviewable after a specific amount of time.

How do you delete messages? And Why?

Every platform is slightly different, but typically users can delete messages by holding down or right clicking on the message and selecting the ‘delete/remove/unsend’ option.

Someone may want to erase something inappropriate, mean, or rude that they sent to another person before they read it. There could be sensitive information (e.g. card details, address, bank account details) that they don’t want to be available anymore. They might also just want to tidy up their chat!

Whatever the reason, it’s important to note that most of these ‘delete for everyone’ options do not erase the action of sending a message – only the content of the message itself. It’s also impossible to ensure the recipient has not saved, downloaded, or taken a screenshot of the message before it was deleted, so the message may still exist on another device.

The following is in regards to individual messages (text, audio, video, or images),
not deleting an entire chat history between two or more users.

How popular platforms approach this

We’ve rounded up some of the most popular platforms for children and young people to give you an idea of how they might be using this feature.

iMessage (iOS 16)

One of the most recent updates to the Apple iOS software has included the ability to ‘unsend’ sent messages in iMessage.

Users can…

  • Unsend a message, even if others have viewed it, within 15 minutes of sending it.
  • Edit a message after it has been sent (edits are still viewable after making them).
  • Remove a message from their own chat history (it will still appear for recipients).

Users cannot…

  • Unsend a message after 15 minutes of sending it.
  • Unsend another user’s message or remove it from other devices.
  • Remove a message that has been saved in another user’s chat history.

Note: Though users are unable to unsend messages within the time frame, other users may still have time to read them, and will still see a notification that a message has been deleted.

WhatsApp

While this platform is now available to use on multiple devices at once, the same account will be able to delete messages on all devices a WhatsApp account is signed in on.

Users can…

  • Delete any message for everyone within 60 hours after sending.
  • Delete for everyone, even if others have viewed the message.
  • Delete on their own device.

Users cannot…

  • Delete another user’s message on all devices (unless they are an admin in a group).
  • Delete a message that has been saved or downloaded onto another device.
  • Delete messages for others who are using an outdated platform version.

Note: Other users will be able to see where a message has been ‘deleted’ in a chat. If another user has media auto-download on their account, any photos or videos that are later deleted may still be visible in their saved media.

Snapchat

The original home of ‘disappearing’ messages, Snapchat has been allowing its users to delete messages since 2018.

Users can…

  • Delete any message for everyone (it is unclear if there is a time limit).
  • Delete for everyone, even if others have viewed the message.
  • Delete messages that others have saved to their Snapchat.

Users cannot…

  • Delete a screenshot of a message another user has taken.
  • Delete a message without notifying the recipient(s).
  • Delete another user’s message.

Note: Messages that have been saved by all users will have a grey background. Users can see who has saved it by pressing down on the message, and can delete this message for everyone even if it has been saved (though it will show that a message has been deleted). This does not include screenshots.

Messenger

This platform incorporates messages from friends, pages, and businesses as well as ‘big brother’ platform Facebook’s features (e.g. Marketplace, Stories, etc.) into one place.

Users can…

  • Remove a message from their own chat history (it may still appear in saved chats).
  • ‘Unsend’ a message for everyone (there does not appear to be a time limit).

  • Unsend or remove a message for everyone, even if others have viewed it.

Users cannot…

  • Permanently delete messages from the platform (saved chat history will show them).
  • Remove a message that has been saved in another user’s chat history.
  • Unsend another user’s message or remove it from other devices.

Note: Mobile app users are only able to ‘unsend’ messages, which means they are removed from the chat history for all users. Desktop versions of the app allow users to ‘remove’ chat messages from their own account (though all users are able to see when a message has been removed or unsent). 

Instagram

‘Sliding into DMs’ might be popular on Instagram, but it is also where users reactions to other users’ stories are shown, even if the only message sent is an emoji.

Users can…

  • Remove a message from their own chat history (it may still appear in saved chats).
  • Unsend a message for everyone (there does not appear to be a time limit).

  • Unsend or remove a message for everyone, even if others have viewed it.

Users cannot…

  • Stop a message notification from being sent, even if the message is unsent.
  • Remove a message that has been saved in another user’s chat history.
  • Unsend another user’s message or remove it from other devices.

Note: While messages appear to be completely deleted from chats, a notification may still appear for the recipient on their home page.

What About TikTok?

Our research discovered that users currently cannot delete messages for everyone on popular platform TikTok. They are only able to delete the message from their own view, but the recipient is still able to see it.

Risks

  • Inappropriate behaviour. A young person may feel they can engage in sending intimate photos, videos, or texts to others as they can just ‘delete’ them after.
  • Grooming. This feature may create opportunities for grooming, as the initiator can encourage children to ‘just delete’ the texts or images once they send them.
  • Cyberbullying. There is a danger that young people could experience or engage in bullying, as they may feel able to control the situation by deleting hurtful messages.
  • Saving. Recipients may secretly take screenshots or save messages before they are deleted in order to use them against the sender.
  • Law enforcement. If a situation presents itself where authorities need to intervene, the ability to delete incriminating messages might make it harder to press charges.

Top Tips

  • Use offline behaviours online. Remind those in your care to never do anything online they would not be comfortable doing (or having others see them do) offline.
  • Talk about trust. Discuss the danger of communicating with strangers or people they do not know well over messaging platforms.
  • Discuss saving options. There are multiple ways deleted messages can be retrieved. Remind them that deleting a message doesn’t mean it is gone forever.
  • Encourage trusted adults. Ensure they have someone to confide in, even if that person is not you. You can use our Trusted Adult resource to help.
  • Stay up to date. Features like this change frequently. Use our online Safety Centre to learn about new safety settings and more.

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