Problem

Arguably the most popular smartphone app used by Millennials and teens, Snapchat is frequently used for sexting and the sharing of self-produced child sexual abuse images. Additionally, the built-in feature Snapcash has enabled Snapchat and its users to monetize and profit from the exchange of pornography. Snapchat’s business model facilitates sexual exploitation yielding hefty profits for the company without any regard for the associated harms.

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to send and receive photos and videos, which will disappear after a few seconds of the recipient viewing them. Photos and videos taken with the app are called Snaps. Users can also share Stories. Stories string Snaps together to create a narrative that lasts for 24 hours. To create a Story, a user chooses to add their Snaps to their Story. Depending on their privacy settings, the photos and videos added to a Story can be viewed by either all Snapchatters, just the user’s friends, or a customized group, whereas Snaps are viewed only by a user who is personally sent the Snap from the sender.

Here, here, and here are simple explanations for how Snapchat works. We especially encourage parents to learn more about this app in order to help prepare kids with digital safety guidelines. We also encourage parents to understand the tools their kids are using and to use these tools together with their kids. Visit the NCOSE Resource Center for Parents.

 

What is Snapcash?

Snapchat partnered with payment processor, Square, in November 2014, to develop Snapcash, a way to easily send money to a user on Snapchat. Learn more here and here.

 

Why is Snapchat on the Dirty Dozen List?

Founded in May 2011, Snapchat is one of the most popular social media tools with 100 million daily active users, 65% of users upload content – snaps or stories. 71% of users are under age 25. A survey of 2014 high school seniors revealed that 46% of them were using Snapchat daily and 77% of college students use the app daily. There are approximately 6 billion daily Snapchat video views (compare that to the much larger Facebook, which has 8 billion video views a day).

NCOSE recognizes that Snapchat’s founder and executives claim the site was not made for the purpose of sending sexts (or nude selfies), though this is disputed by some, and their current Terms of Use (TOU) technically prohibit the sending of pornographic content. Of course, Snapchat only added that to their TOU in 2014 after much controversy. Surveys show that a majority of users use the app most often for innocent picture-conversations. There is good that can come from the opportunity to interact and communicate in the way Snapchat accommodates.

Tech experts and troves of social media users share a different story than Snapchat’s PR team about how thousands of users (mostly young people) are using the app. Since the app’s launch in 2011, thousands of media and tech safety articles (15,000 in Google News Search on 2/22/16) explain that the app is used to send explicit material. Many of the pornographic images on Snapchat are created and distributed by children and many of these images end up on third party websites. Another misunderstanding about the app is that many believe their snaps will remain private. However, Snaps have been hacked and recipients can easily take screenshots to save and further distribute Snaps they have received.

The New York Times recently reported that many porn performers and strip club employees are using Snapcash to earn money for nude videos and photos of themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. Many individuals, and even teenagers, who do not routinely engaged in the sex trade, have used Snapchat for sexting and Snapcash for selling self-made pornography. In fact, many minors have been criminally charged with distributing or creating child pornography through Snapchat over the last several years.

Snapcash allows users to send each other quick payments for these pictures and videos that allegedly disappear shortly after you open it. Transactions range around $1 to $5, but “donations” or payment for personalized sex shows can delve into the double digits.

Users’ debit cards must be linked to Square, a partner with Snapchat, for Snapcash to work. Despite Square’s TOU, Square is no stranger to commercial sex. The company has served as the payment platform for persons in prostitution primarily in the Silicon Valley area for years.

 

Snapchat and Snapcash Used for Explicit Material:

As discussed in the media:

  • “According to a report on The Register, Snapchat’s Snapcash feature has spawned a new business sector for the amateur porn artists and those who want to enter into the porn industry…All the aspiring porn actor needs to do is ask for money in return for flashing their nude bodies and sex acts. The money is transferred by Snapcash…The Register mentioned, ‘The Reg has found several wannabe blue movie stars who have offered to expose their most intimate parts in exchange for donations via Snapcash, the micropayments system introduced by the firm last week.’” (Deccan Chronicle)
  • “One brunette on Snapchat this week, most likely in her 20s, wore nothing more than skimpy underwear and offered to send pictures personalized for a person’s proclivities for $5. Men offer similar products at comparable prices…You may ask why anyone would pay for online pornography when it’s available free everywhere. For one thing, a private video chat on your mobile phone with a naked person is much more intimate and personal than a website or even a webcam. (So I hear.)…Moreover, Snapchat doesn’t leave anything in your search history. There’s no trace of it to be found by a snooping significant other or an overprotective parent.” (New York Times)
  • Snapchat was built on a concept of making sexting less risky, despite numerous revelations that the photos shared to the “ephemeral” service might not actually disappear. While the company has tried to crack down on adult content on the app—including banning several high-profile Snapchatters last fall—sexting still runs rampant. And for many people, snapping with strangers is an outlet, and a way to express themselves without any strings attached… Of all the forums that exist to facilitate sharing sexy content on Snapchat, r/DirtySnapchat is probably the most legitimate and least graphic. Others… boast tens of thousands of responses in threads bursting with graphic photos and promises of lascivious content associated with a Snapchat handle. Often these threads contain demographic information, and, somewhat troubling, descriptions of snapchatters who are in their teens…” (DailyDot here)
  • One website specifically featured pornographic pictures pulled off of Snapchat. In order to refrain from advertising for this website, its name has been omitted in this news article excerpt discussing the site: “…Unlike social media, which unfolds in public, [Pornographic website name omitted by NCOSE] is limited both in terms of people and availability of content. The service uses SnapChat, a photo messaging app that enables users to send media to a list of recipients to be viewed for a specified amount of time, after which it is removed from the recipient’s device and deleted from the app’s servers. [Name omitted by NCOSE] caps the number of people that can sign up per performer (what Stone calls the “theater”) at 3,000, adding a sense of exclusivity to the already ephemeral product…Initially, [Name omitted by NCOSE] considered using Vine as well, but given Twitter’s recent porn ban on its video clip-sharing service, it looks like [Name omitted by NCOSE] will be limited to SnapChat use only. According to SnapChat’s community guidelines, which ban “Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18),” the 18 and over [Name omitted by NCOSE] is within bounds and free to operate…”
  • “…Snapchat was supposed to be the consequence-free iPhone sexting app everyone had always hoped for: you take your nudie pic, you specify a time limit (10 seconds or less), and you send it to your sext buddy, secure in the knowledge that it would be deleted from his or her phone when the time limit ran out…” (Gawker here)

While NCOSE does not encourage you to do this search yourself, a scan of the hashtags #snapcash and #snapchat on other social media sites like Instagram and Twitter reveal thousands of posts cross promoting Snapchat users who regularly post sexually explicit content. NCOSE documented 7, 552 posts on Instagram on 2/17/2016 using the hashtag #snapcash. A majority of these posts encouraged followers to find them on Snapchat and send Snapcash to receive more explicit photos and video.

 

Why did Snapchat make the list now and not in previous years?

While NCOSE has been warning of the dangers of Snapchat since its early days, we felt that with the launch of Snapcash and surveys indicating that its development is commonly used to monetize sexually exploitive messages, Snapchat now belongs on the Dirty Dozen List of leading contributors to sexual exploitation in America. Snapchat, along with Square, are now profiting handsomely from the distribution of pornographic messages through the app. The app went from reported revenue of $3 million in 2014 to projected revenue of $50 million in 2015. A major contributor to this growth is the development of the feature Snapcash.

While not all Snapchat users engage in sending or receiving sexually explicit content, it is a growing market as the demand for pornography reacts to Snapchat’s supply. We are demanding that Snapchat enforce its policies against pornography and provide easy ways for users to report sexually exploitive content for removal.

 

What are the harms of sexting?

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) estimates that 88% of self-made sexually explicit images are “stolen” from their original upload location such as laptop webcams or phones. Snapchat, specifically, is not as safe as some believe. The photo “snaps” can be recovered or hacked, and the receiver can take a screen shot and share it with others. Many Snapchat images have found their way on “revenge” porn sites.

Sexting among those under 18 in legal terms is considered self-produced softcore or hardcore child pornography depending on what is depicted, and is therefore liable to criminal or civil prosecution.

Even though sexts are typically self-produced, it is important to recognize that tweens and teens are immature and do not yet have fully developed key psychosocial skills, such as the ability to weigh risks. Additionally, individuals are frequently enticed, pressured, and even bullied by their peers to create and send sexts. In many other instances, predatory adults groom minors by seeking sexual images of, and even sexual encounters with, underage boys and girls.

Proof

WARNING: The material in the proof section includes graphic descriptions and blurred screenshots of explicit content in order to show the growing trend on social media of explicit uses of Snapchat and Snapcash. Could be a possible trigger.



Take Action

Email Snapchat Executives

Get Educated & Be Involved!

  1. If around youth, learn about Snapchat and Snapcash.
  2. Have regular discussions with your children about digital safety and your rules surrounding social media. For example: Make sure they are communicating only with people they know and that they realize the pictures they send don’t just vanish forever. Remind them, “Once on the Internet, always on the Internet!” Visit here, here, and here for more resources on teaching digital safety.
  3. Consider using the social media tools that your children use so that you are not only aware of how it is used, but also as a way to show your children you care about their world, and to connect and communicate with them

Ask Elected Officials to Amend Communications Decency Act

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Personal stories help elected and business leaders to see the grave harm associated with this material and can be very helpful in getting them to change their policies. All will be shared anonymously. Please email your story to public@ncose.com.

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Updates

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