Do you need to be discreet? Here’s how to set up the disappearance of texts, photos, or videos in the most popular chat apps.
Want to send messages that disappear automatically? Most mystery and spy movies are based on the premise that you can send messages that self-destruct, but you don’t have to be an international secret agent to do the same with your own texts.
In fact, most chat apps now include some sort of message disappear feature, which means that if you don’t want a permanent record of your conversation, you don’t have to. In fact, the encrypted messaging app Signal has recently incorporated its default message disappearance feature.
While it’s helpful to have chat files to look back at for sentimental and practical reasons (recipes, directions, instructions, and more), there are other times you’d rather nothing be saved. This is what needs to be done.
There’s a caveat here for all of these apps, and that’s that the people you communicate with can take screenshots of what you’ve said — or, if the screenshots are locked, they can take a screenshot with another device. Some promise to notify if your messages have been captured or downloaded, but there is always a solution. It’s something to keep in mind when choosing who to chat with and how much to share. You also have to be careful when texting at work.
The message disappearance feature in Signal (which is an alternative app recommended by Elon Musk)is an option for every conversation you have and is now available by default, or by an individual conversation: You can switch between disappearing messages and permanent messages at any time in any thread. To do this, tap the three dots (top right) on any thread, and then choose Disappear Messages.
You can choose between 1 second and 4 weeks for your messages to remain after they’ve been viewed (or choose Disable to turn off the feature). You can even set a custom timer if you prefer and don’t like any of the pre-selected ones: you can tell a message to disappear in 60 seconds. An alert will appear in the chat every time you change these settings, and everything you send thereafter will follow the rules you’ve set.
To set a default expiration time for messages in all your chats, open the app’s main settings page and select Privacy and Default Timer for new chats (under Disappearing Messages). This applies to all chats you start thereafter, not to existing conversations on your phone.
Messages that disappear from WhatsApp only work with images and videos and not with text, for now. The recipient has 14 days to see what you’ve sent them, and it disappears as soon as they see it.
From WhatsApp, open the conversation you want to send the image or video to, tap the camera icon at the bottom, and capture the content. You’ll see a small icon that shows a 1 in a circle, next to the green send icon: tap it to make your message an image or video that disappears.
You can include a caption with the photo or clip, which will disappear along with it. Once you’ve submitted anything, you won’t see it from your side: You’ll only see a Photo or Video entry in the conversation thread, with the little icon 1 next to it. The text will change to Open once it has been viewed.
Snapchat didn’t invent disappearing messages, but it certainly helped popularize them. From the main screen of the conversation list, you can tap any contact to start a conversation, or tap the compose icon (top right) if the person you want to talk to isn’t on the screen.
Everything in the conversation, including text and images, will disappear once it has been viewed. Any part of an individual conversation can choose to save something permanently by holding on it, but you’ll be able to see if this happens because it will remain on the screen.
You can also go to the photo and video capture screen (which first appears when you switch to Snapchat), take an image or clip, and then choose who you want to send it to. Again, what you send will disappear as soon as it is seen.
Facebook Messenger is fully prepared for disappearing messages, which can include everything that normal chats include. However, these conversations are stored separately: you can’t have normal messages and disappear messages together in the same thread.
To set up a chat, press the compose button (top right) and make sure the lock switch (top right again) is turned on, allowing for secret conversations and disappearing messages. Once this is done, you can choose the contact or contacts you want to communicate with.
Everything you send in one of these chats will disappear as soon as it is seen. If you want to give people a little more time, tap the timer icon to the left of the sandbox: messages can stay up to a day after being viewed if you wish.
Instagram has gone beyond sharing photos to include Snapchat-style stories, direct messages, and more. The direct messaging component allows you to send photos and videos that remain recorded or disappear once they have been viewed, although the text is always maintained.
Head to your conversation list in the Instagram app and open the conversation you want to send the disappearing message to (tap the compose icon, top right, if you don’t see it). Tap the camera icon to the left of the compose box and capture the photo or video you want to send.
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see several options for what you’re going to send: Watch once, allow replay (which is actually watch twice), and keep in chat. Choose the one you prefer before confirming with the Submit button.
Telegram, which is different from Whatsapp and in some things better is also popular for its disappearing messages. These conversations are kept separate from normal threads in what are called secret chats, and you can start one from a contact’s profile.
Open a conversation with a contact, tap their profile link at the top, then tap the three dots and choose Start Secret Chat from the menu that appears. This opens a separate conversation thread where text, images, and everything else is temporary.
Tap the timer icon at the top (Android) or bottom (iOS) of the window to set how long messages will remain after you’ve seen them. The countdown time you specify will also appear in the conversation thread.
Article originally published in Wired USA.