Snapchat is consistently ranked as the most popular social media apps among US teens: roughly two thirds of 13–17 year-olds online using Snapchat and 34% of US teens naming it as their most important social network in a fall 2020 survey.
Unfortunately, this platform that boasts 265 million daily active users has been used by sex traffickers and predators to groom, abuse, and sell people, including children. Experts and law enforcement have witnessed a rise in Snapchat being used for sextortion. Children as young as 13 are left vulnerable to sextortion, grooming for abuse, exposure to pornography, and even being sex trafficked through Snapchat accounts that function as pornographic advertisements to sex buyers.
Snapchat’s made improvements recently, but it can still do much more to protect minors.
Learn more and act below!
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.
We recognize that Snapchat has made recent improvements to limit the excessive amount of sexually graphic material available to young users on Discover by implementing a “cold start” feature (type of content shown is based on birthday entered when creating an account), allowing Discover publishers to age-gate content, and providing users the option to delete specific Discover publishers. While we are still finding hypersexualized stories and the promotion of risky sexual behavior (e.g., polyamorous relationships) the amount has reduced substantially since earlier this fall.
Snapchat also defaulted several safety settings for minors when accounts are set up – especially setting “Contact Me” to “My Friends” and turning on Ghost Mode. Given the significant percentage of Snapchat’s users that are minors, these changes have the potential to improve the well-being and safety of millions of youth – both in the immediate and long-term.
Snapchat also discontinued Snapcash—which was being used to buy and sell pornographic images and videos, often acting as advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking. The removal of Snapcash, and the creation of in-app reporting, were some of the key requests we made when Snapchat was placed on the 2018 Dirty Dozen List.
Further, in NCOSE’s letter sent to Snapchat in January of 2018, we requested that Snapchat “provide prominent in-app reporting systems for users to report other users that send or promote sexually exploitive content.” We’re glad to see that Snapchat has followed up on this request and that there are now ways to report individual snaps for containing “nudity or sexual content” along with other report topics (though again, reporting options could still be expanded; for example, to include sextortion). Snapchat has also updated its Safety Center with information about how to report harmful content and about tips to stay safe.
WHY IS SNAPCHAT ON THE WATCHLIST?
Unfortunately, despite recent improvements, we still hear from other online safety experts, the survivors with whom we work, and from many concerned families that Snapchat continues to be frequently used to sexually exploit and objectify individuals, serve as a method for sextortion and sexting, and is still used by sex traffickers as a tool to sell children and adults for sex. Snapchat’s response is insufficient both in scope and urgency given the immense harm the platform is facilitating.
Given the incredible popularity of Snapchat among teens, Snap Inc. has a serious social obligation to prioritize creating a safe environment for youth. In today’s culture, where sexual harassment and assault are rampant (and growing rapidly during COVID-19), corporations such as Snapchat have a renewed responsibility to refrain from normalizing or promoting material that promotes sexual exploitation.
In particular, we ask that Snapchat institute the following changes:
- Create pin-protected parental controls that can’t be changed by a minor
- Turn off “See Me in Quick Add” feature as the default for minors
- Block the ability to change a birthday once an account is created
- Remove and block accounts posting and promoting pornographic content with greater efficiency and proactive measures
- Add the ability for all users, particularly parents and guardians of minors, to completely hide the Stories and/or Discover sections (or at the very least create a method to block certain content across the platform, rather than having to “hide” individual stories or publishers)
- Update your Parent’s Guide and Community Guidelines to include information about the extensive risks on Snapchat, especially predatory or illegal behavior (sextortion, sexting, grooming, etc.)
- Adjust Apple App rating from 12+ to 17+ and Google Play from “Teen” to “Mature” to more accurately warn potential users – especially parents and guardians of minors – of the extensive risks on Snapchat
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. Could be a possible trigger.
Get Educated & Be Involved!
- If around youth, learn about Snapchat.
- 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.
- 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
Share your STORY
Personal stories help elected officials 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protected: Stay updated on these projects
Upcoming Critical Safety Measures
Snapchat is slowly rolling out critical safety measures to curb predatory targeting, grooming, sex trafficking, and pornography exposure abuse on its platform. While we cannot share details at this time because of Non-Disclosure Agreements—we are encouraged by their plans.
In-App Reporting & Discontinued Snapcash
Snapchat enabled in-app reporting so that users can finally report abusive and sexually explicit behavior. Snapchat also discontinued Snapcash—which was being used to buy and sell pornographic images and videos, often acting as advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking. These were key requests when Snapchat was placed on the 2018 Dirty Dozen List.
Snapchat Improved its Policy on Graphic, Risqué Stories
Snapchat updated its guidelines for Discover publishers to discourage clickbait. It announced that Snapchat will give publishers a tool that allows them to age-gate content, or stop minors from seeing specific content.
In mid-March 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Teen Vogue (which has a troubling history with teenagers and sexual exploitation) posted a Snapchat Discover story about sexting under the guise of helping teenagers sustain their relationships from a distance. In case Teen Vogue has forgotten what a “teen” is: Teen (noun): relating to teenagers…
In 2020, it is intolerable for a mainstream company or entity to facilitate, profit from, or normalize sexual exploitation—and that’s why the Dirty Dozen List exists. This list ensures that their promotion and collusion with sexual assault, sex trafficking, pornography, the eroticization of incest, and more, becomes public knowledge, and equips concerned citizens with information and…
The sexual exploitation of minors is a tragic reality for far too many children in our society. In early December 2019, a 36-year-old woman was arrested in Oregon with multiple sex crime charges. The woman, Rheta Melvin, allegedly used Snapchat to message and solicit a 14-year-old boy for sex. The 14-year-old, a student at the…
Statement by Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of NCOSE Washington, DC – On July 9, The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing with twelve senators and a packed room on the topic of “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World” in order to talk about the predatory targeting, grooming, sex trafficking, hardcore pornography, and more that makes…
Last December, we sat down with survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. They knew about our work at NCOSE trying to change policies that facilitate sexual exploitation and said they had something they wanted us to understand. The oldest was 15. These young girls shared their heartbreaking stories with us, all of which included the…
By Dan Rascon, KSL TV | Posted – Mar 26th, 2019 @ 9:28pm Excerpt from: https://www.ksl.com/article/46518982/grassroots-campaign-to-help-protect-kids-from-porn-on-social-media SALT LAKE CITY — A grassroots campaign is going after social media giants Instagram and Snapchat, saying it’s time to police their rating system of 12+, because teens have too easy access to porn. The campaign will be rolled out…
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…
Devin Ashford was charged in Lincoln, Nebraska for sex trafficking of a minor and possession of child pornography. Devin Ashford was arrested for sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl, after the young woman he exploited was able to call her mother for help. This launched a police investigation, and one month later police got search warrants for…
Share Your Story
It can be painful to share stories of sexual exploitation or harm, and sometimes it’s useful to focus on personal healing first. But for many, sharing their past or current experiences may be a restorative and liberating process. This is a place for those who want to express their story.