Snapchat Denies Blackburn’s Charge It Enables Child Predators

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Congressional Correspondent for The Epoch Times.
July 21, 2019 Updated: July 21, 2019

WASHINGTON—A company official responded July 19 to Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) recent claim that Snapchat is “a child predator’s dream” with an eight-page, single-spaced letter describing multiple ways the smartphone app “is different than other social platforms.”

The lengthy letter from Jennifer Stout, Snap Inc.’s vice president for global public policy, was in response to Blackburn’s July 11 speech on the Senate floor, in which Blackburn declared:

“Snapchat by its very nature is a child predator’s dream. Its auto-delete feature allows individuals to ensure their pictures and videos erase themselves after only a few seconds.

“Its public location-sharing feature allows anyone—even underage children—to share their location in real time. If left in the public mode, the ‘Snap Map’ will reveal their location and their Snap video feed to complete strangers.

“Even if an underage user hasn’t fallen prey, they’re still exposed to provocative and age-inappropriate material via the app’s ‘Discover’ feature—recommendations generated by Snapchat itself, free from parental control or monitoring.”

And in a July 8 letter to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, Blackburn said: “Just as teens flock to Snapchat, so do criminals seeking a platform that enables easy contact with potential minor victims.

“In 2017, a California man was arrested after coercing six young boys, between the ages of 12 and 15, living in Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, to send sexually explicit videos of themselves on Snapchat.

“Earlier this year, a Massachusetts man was charged with child sexual exploitation after he was caught posing as a teenage girl on Snapchat to extort nude photos of other minors.”

Blackburn was recently named by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as chairman of the panel’s Tech Task Force that is examining issues linked to consumer privacy and safety on the Internet.

Stout avoided a confrontational refutation of Blackburn’s claims about Snapchat. Nevertheless, the company executive’s letter included counterclaims on every point raised by the Tennessee senator.

“Snapchat is different than other social platforms. Here are a few reasons why: First, we do not offer common aspects of social networking, such as a profile photo, a catalogue of a user’s historical posts, a feed with ‘likes’ and comments, or a mechanism for making content go viral.

“Second, we intentionally make it harder to find people on Snapchat than on other platforms, because we want to encourage users to interact only with their real friends.

“Third, by default, you cannot receive a message on Snapchat from someone who is not already your friend.

“Fourth, location-sharing is off by default, and there is no option on Snapchat to share your location with anyone other than your friends.

“Fifth, we curate our publicly viewable ‘Discover’ publishers; Discover is not an open platform.

“Taken together, these Snapchat features help protect our users’ privacy and enhance their safety. These features also make it difficult for inappropriate accounts to flourish, and for predators to use the platform to identify, much less meet, our younger users.”

Stout added that “we have zero tolerance for illegal or harmful content on Snapchat and clearly illustrate the types of content that are not acceptable in our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.”

Snapchat officials are concerned, Stout acknowledged, that “predators are using other, less private, apps to locate potential victims and then steer them to Snapchat or other private messaging platforms.”

Finally, Stout told Blackburn that Snapchat’s revenue model doesn’t depend on users under the age of 18. “Around 80 percent of Snapchatters in the United States are already 18 or over, so most of Snapchat’s advertising revenue today comes from these older users.”

As a result, Snapchat “has every incentive to focus on these more valuable older demographics,” she said.

Blackburn’s only comment on Stout’s letter was to note in releasing it that she is “appreciative of Snap’s responsiveness and willingness to engage in a productive discussion. These vulnerabilities must be addressed.”

When pressed by The Epoch Times to say if Blackburn was unsatisfied with Snapchat’s response, spokeswoman Kathryn McQuade insisted that “no, I would not characterize the senator’s reaction to the letter that way.”

Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Congressional Correspondent for The Epoch Times.