**Trigger warning. We’ve included screenshots and one video from our Snapchat experience. This content might be triggering due to its highly sexualized nature. If you are sensitive to this type of content, please be careful.**
Snapchat Testified in Front of the US Senate
On October 26, 2021, Snap Inc.’s VP Global Public Policy, Jennifer Stout, testified alongside executives from TikTok and Google (YouTube) about protecting kids online. This hearing is one in a string of hearings over the past two years aimed at shining a light on the ways technology companies are not fulfilling their responsibility to come alongside parents and better protect our children.
During the hearing, Ms. Stout was challenged by Senator Mike Lee (UT) about the age appropriateness of the content in the Discover News section of the app (at the 1:59:20 mark in the recording).
“Senator, the content that appears in Snapchat is appropriate for an age group that is 13 and above.”
“Let’s talk about that for a minute. Because I beg to differ. In anticipation of this discussion, and this hearing, I had my staff create a Snapchat account for a 15-year-old child. They didn’t select any content preferences for the account. They simply entered a name, birth year, and email address. And then when they opened the Discover page on Snapchat, with its default settings, [they] were immediately bombarded with content that I can most politely describe as wildly inappropriate for a child.”
PYE Has a Long History of Watching Snapchat
Snapchat is not a new app. It has roots back to 2011 when it was launched by Evan Spiegel (still CEO today), Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown. They’re no stranger to pushing the limits with content, including their attempt at launching explicit content in Cosmo After Dark, showing alcohol content to minors, suggesting that minors use incognito mode to hide porn from parents, advising minors to practice “safe sexting,” and how to navigate an abortion as a minor.
I love families. I love creating safer digital spaces for kids. I work extremely hard to give kids and teens tools so that they can avoid life-altering digital situations. And when young people end up in apps* that present an unreasonable amount of risk to their lives, I have a responsibility to speak up. We all do. It’s our compelling responsibility to protect our children.
I believe that Snapchat creates an unreasonable amount of risk to our children.
We Created a 13-Year-Old Snapchat Account
We created a new, 13-year-old Snapchat account last Thursday. We also didn’t select any content preferences. We went to the Discover News section. For two days, we simply tapped on a few of the articles that Snapchat gave us by default.
The screenshots and video below are from what Snapchat served to our account.
(A 45-second video of content shown to our account)
Snapchat – We have Some Questions
We just don’t think Snapchat is appropriate for kids. Not unless they’re willing to give parents better tools. For example:
- Snap Map: since nothing is locked in, parents can’t prevent kids from sharing their location. Why not?
- Discover News: the content clearly isn’t curated for your youngest users. Why not?
- Snaps: A basic understanding of adolescent brain development, including reward sensitivity and impulsivity, points toward the extreme risk that disappearing photos present to young people. Yet, you’re not using existing nudity detection tech to prevent kids from sending or receiving life-changing pics. Why not?
- Quick Add: this Snapchat feature isn’t turned off by default when a new account is created, which allows friends of friends to find kids. Why not?
Alternatively, let’s just call Snapchat in its current form what it is – an app for adults. Then, let’s open the innovation gates for the creation of an app that’s designed with kids in mind that includes the ideas above.
* Some readers will push back and say, “Chris, it’s the parent’s responsibility to make these choices, not Snapchat.” I’m also a big fan of parental freedom. But it’s interesting to me that we make this argument in digital spaces but not in other places. Especially in places where we know that large numbers of children spend time. We used to put explicit magazines behind the counter at Convenience Stores in a plastic wrap and with the titles covered with cardboard. Why? To decrease the risk of children being exposed. We do the same with certain medications, cigarettes, and more. These are measures intended to decrease risk of misuse. We don’t create dangerous playgrounds. Why? Because we default to safety in most every non-digital space where children spend time.
We’re not telling parents how to parent. We’re simply asking:
- For the involved parent: Snapchat, please provide more options to protect their kids from unreasonable risk.
- For the uninformed or uninvolved parent: Snapchat, please bear more of the community’s overall responsibility to protect children from harm.
Keep learning about internet safety, including Snapchat, through the Protect App!
With over 500 mini-lessons, and now 20 videos to watch with your kids, The Protect App is your one-stop-shop for all of your internet safety needs. Bite-sized right in your pocket! Whenever and wherever you have 5 minutes to unlock your digital parenting superpowers. Protect even includes a section with step-by-step instructions for understanding Snapchat. Download it today! Just head to your Apple or Google Play Store and search “protect young eyes.”
Chris McKenna, Founder: A man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, and podcasts for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation and on-going discussion that could radically change online child protection laws and earned PYE the NCOSE Dignity Defense Alert Award in 2020. The PYE team has performed over 1,300 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits and was featured in the Childhood 2.0 movie. When not leading PYE, Chris is the Digital Marketing Manager for Covenant Eyes. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, nature, and candy.