Snapchat, which just got a hefty update yesterday, has been hit with a lawsuit accusing that the app’s Discover feature of exposing minors to sexually explicit content. The lawsuit has been filed by a 14-year-old boy and his mother, who are represented by Mark Geragos in the Central California District Court.
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Specifically, Snapchat is being accused of violating the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was introduced to help regulate explicit content on the Internet. While Snapchat got a reputation early-on for being the perfect app for sexting as pictures are deleted after a certain length of time, this lawsuit focuses on Discover.
For those unfamiliar, Discover is a collection of original content aggregated by a variety of different publishers, including BuzzFeed, Mashable, DailyMail, iHeartRadio, ESPN, Fusion, MTV, People, and Cosmopolitan. The lawsuit lists a few examples of sexually explicit content, one of which from BuzzFeed that allegedly placed Disney characters in explicit conditions as part of a listicle titled “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With A Penis,” which was shown on their Discovery channel.
While the plaintiffs, who seek class action status, are mainly focused on Discover. They also mention how the easy ability to send Discover content to other Snapchat users is facilitating “problematic communications, such as ‘sexting’ between minors.” Ultimately, the plaintiffs say that Snapchat has placed its monetization efforts over the safety of children.
From the filing:
“Millions of parents in the United States today are unaware that Snapchat is curating and publishing this profoundly sexual and offensive content to their children. By engaging in such conduct directed at minors, and making it simple and easy for users to ‘snap’ each other content from Snapchat Discover, Snapchat is reinforcing the use of its service to facilitate problematic communications, such as ‘sexting,’ between minors. Snapchat has placed profit from monetizing Snapchat Discover over the safety of children.
Interestingly, Snapchat’s terms of service require that users be at least 13-years-old to use the app, but Apple rates the app as appropriate for users 12 and older in the App Store. Apple is generally pretty strict when it comes to App Store ratings, so this feels like a lapse in judgement or oversight on its part.
In a statement to CNET, a Snapchat spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but apologized for anyone that was offended. In the end, however, the spokesperson explained that Discover partners have editorial independence.
“We haven’t been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended,” a Snapchat spokesman said in a statement. “Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support.”
Geragos said to the LA Times that about 25 people have contacted him over the past year with complaints surrounding how Snapchat provides easy access to inappropriate content, which will help the case gain class action status. Snapchat’s user agreement, however, “bars class action filings and mandates all disputes go through arbitration.”
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and for Snapchat to add an in-app warning about possible sexual content. It’s also possible that Apple could take action against Snapchat, perhaps raising the recommended age. The Communications Decency Act places a $50,000 per-day, per-violation penalty on violators.