Congress

Sen. Marsha Blackburn calls Snapchat ‘a child predator's dream’

In letter to Snap Inc. CEO, she urges action to protect minors from explicit content

Sen. Marsha Blackburn says the Snapchat app is a haven for predators and exposes children to explicit content. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn is urging tech company Snap to take steps to protect young users of the Snapchat platform from sexual predators and explicit content.

The Tennessee Republican penned a letter to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on Monday, calling on the company to answer questions about the recommended age of Snapchat users and what the company is doing to prevent explicit content being shared with minors on the app.

“Snap must be transparent with users about the steps they take to ensure their application is used responsibly and not taken advantage of by those who wish to do innocent children harm,” said Blackburn in the letter.

Snapchat is a smartphone app used for creating photos and videos, called “snaps,” that can be directed privately to contacts or to a public “story” feature. Images expire after a certain period of time.

Blackburn gave Spiegel a deadline of July 29 to answer a list of questions on how the platform is protecting minors from “age-inappropriate material.”

Questions include “Does Snapchat’s revenue model and user growth depend on attracting young users under the age of 18?” and “What policies has Snapchat considered as it pertains to regulating the advertisements seen by minors, the channels that appear in the ‘Discover’ section, and the prohibitions on minors from subscribing to pornographic channels?”

The company says the Snapchat app is designed for teens and adults and does not market to children. The app is rated 12+ in the Apple App Store and rated Teen in the Google Play Store.

Blackburn serves on multiple committees that handle emerging technologies, including the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. She also serves on subcommittees handling consumer rights and consumer protection, along with cybersecurity.

“Snapchat’s disappearing videos are a child predator’s dream. Due to the auto-deleting feature, which allows individuals to set the erasure of photo evidence within seconds, predators are far more likely to use Snapchat than other platforms,” she wrote.

Blackburn cited a Massachusetts man charged in March with two federal counts of exploitation of children on the Snapchat app. He posed as a teenage girl and used threats to extort explicit pictures from minors.

Snap is part of the Technology Coalition, a group of tech companies working to end online child exploitation. The coalition's goal is to develop technologies that disrupt the ability to exploit children and distribute child pornography. 

She also pointed to Snapchat’s public location-sharing feature and raised concerns that the app’s “Snap Map” can reveal location of child users to strangers. Users have the ability to choose a “ghost mode” and hide their location. 

Blackburn raised the alarm that ads and channels that contain provocative images are available to all users on the app. She said that while Snapchat’s policies are in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, they “no longer sufficiently protect our children in the new social media age.”

In a statement to Roll Call, a spokesperson from Snap said that the company takes a zero tolerance approach to the issues raised by Blackburn.

“We’ve designed Snapchat with no browsable public profiles, and by default you can’t receive a message or share location with someone you haven't added as a friend on the app. We work hard to detect, prevent and stop any abuse on our platform, and continue to work proactively with governments, law enforcement and best in class safety organizations to ensure that Snapchat continues to be a positive and safe environment,” said the spokesperson on Monday.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.