February 15, 2019

Parents Beware: Popular Teen Apps Are Improperly Rated

The following is an excerpt from an article by KUTV – Salt Lake City


Parents beware: teen-rated apps may not be what you think. What may be rated for 12- or 13-year-old users may actually contain X-rated material.

“Honestly it terrifies me,” said Melissa McKay, a Salt Lake County mother of five who is on a grassroots mission to put an end to the ease for kids to access explicit content. “I think parents would be shocked to know the kind of material that is on these apps.”

McKay said it was easy to do her own research. She said all it took was searching common hashtags and she was able to pull up explicit material by connecting from one link to the next.

“It’s incredibly easy. On Instagram this morning I pulled up a pornographic movie in ten seconds, under a very innocent search term,” said McKay. “The things that concern me about Instagram is the fact that it has such a rosy reputation, because parents think ‘Oh this app is safe my kid is safe on this app.’”

Her other concern is with Snapchat which she said has disturbing headlines just in the newsfeed, which she pulled up and read to 2News during the interview. “’What’s stripping about when you’re a mom.’ Second article, ‘these facts about sex are unreal’ and third, ‘do spies actually use sex to get things they need’”

According to a 2018 study by emarketer, which researches digital data, Snapchat and Instagram are the top social networks among teens, with 1.8 million new users under the age of 25 in one year.

But, McKay’s fight is not alone.

She’s joined forces with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and have released a national statement with Executive Director Dawn Hakins, and Chris McKenna from Protect Young Eyes, saying in part, “Apps in Apple and Google app stores are not held to any kind of third-party accountability to adhere to a consistent rating system.” The national statement added:

As a result, social media apps like Instagram (rated 12+), Snapchat (12+) and Facebook (rated 12+) are hot spots for bullying, the grooming and selling of children into sex-trafficking, self-harm content, pornography, and sextortion. Recent articles point to accounts glorifying animal, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Further, Netflix (rated 4+) has numerous shows with graphic depictions of sexual acts and assault with minimal parental controls.

For the full statement, click here.

McKenna said something needs to be done.

“In less than seven seconds I can search for and discover hard core streaming video pornography intercourse on Instagram and there is no way to stop it,” said McKenna. “We are not saying no kid can handle these apps we are saying these are digital playgrounds created by adults for adults.”

McKenna’s and McKay’s solution – create a rating system just like there is for movies and video games.

“There’s certain expectations that I have when I go to a PG-13 movie right?” said McKenna. “Unless there is some accountability, there’s no motivation to actually comply with those standards that are set in place.”

“I think that we need a third party group to come in and take over app ratings and oversight for maybe the top 100 or 150 apps,” said McKay.

Dr. Brian Willoughby, an associate professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, has been researching the effects of pornography among kids for years.

“All the porn stars who want you to come to their website have accounts on [these apps],” said Willoughby to 2News. “What concerns me the most is the lack of information a lot of families and parents have. They think to themselves well Instagram and Snapchat they have all these filters set up so they are not going to see pornographic videos and content.”

Attorney and state Senator Todd Weiler has been a fighter on Utah’s Capitol Hill for anti-porn issues. He would love to see some kind of enforcement on the rating system but said “I think it would be hard for us to shape a Utah only policy.”

But, he believes this is an issue that both parties at the national level could agree on.

“Protecting kids from adult material and pornography that shouldn’t be a democratic or republican thing,” said Weiler.

U.S. Senator Mike Lee agrees. He is also closely watching this and considering getting involved. He sent 2News a statement on Thursday saying:

The content on some of these apps available to kids is beyond obscene. If Apple and Android don’t step up and do a better job of making sure kids are not exposed to this content. Congress may have to act.

2News reached out to Instagram and Snapchat for a response. A spokesperson for Instagram told us:

Pornographic content is not allowed on Instagram. We recently saw a spike in pornographic content posted on hashtags, including hashtags like #girl and #boy. We have a number of measures in place to ensure pornographic content is not posted on Instagram, and we are currently investigating why this happened. These hashtags no longer contain pornographic content but we are continuing to work on this issue to keep our community safe.

The spokesperson said anyone can report pornographic content in the app at any time so it can be removed. She also said Instagram has technology that is being used to identify nude and pornographic videos that have previously been removed.

Snapchat sent this statement to 2News:

Snapchat has a zero tolerance policy on the promotion or distribution of pornographic content. We encourage our community to report accounts that violate our clearly stated terms of service, which enables us to more effectively remove and block violating third parties from the platform.

The statement continued:

“Snapchat Community Guidelines and Terms of Service prohibit accounts that promote or distribute pornographic content (it’s also important to note that Snapchat is only for users ages 13+).

We have integrated new and easy ways to report nudity or sexual content and other safety concerns right on Snapchat.

  • To report abuse on Snapchat, users can press and hold on the open content until a flag button appears in the bottom left corner which alerts us to their concerns.
  • This report will capture the Snap or Story reported and allow us to more fully assess the situation and take appropriate action.
  • When we are notified that a Snapchatter is violating our rules, we promptly investigate and remove the offending content if appropriate, and may terminate the account.
  • Snap also does not commercially benefit from illegal content on the platform — this type of activity and payments made are typically done via third party sites.”

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

Further Reading