Tag Archives: grooming

The Snapchat Indecency Lawsuit

Everyone I know is probably getting tired of me saying that we have to be wary of the communication technology we use. A lot of it looks like it has a beneficial purpose on the surface but is something else when you dig into it a little deeper. I am a heavy user of social media and technology for marketing purposes so rather than stop using it I’m trying to be more careful about the amount of exposure I have and the type of exposure. I have never used Snapchat. For my homework I had to write about an indecency lawsuit against Snapchat so had to quickly read about how it works and what it does. It is widely believed in some circles that large segments of leaders in media, culture and business are constantly looking for ways to groom minor children for sexual exploitation. Do you agree or disagree?  This paper has been graded but I didn’t change anything before publishing. I am not an attorney or law student, I am a Marketing and Advertising Communications major.

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
29 November 2020

The Snapchat Indecency Lawsuit

Snapchat is a messaging app that also features paid advertising and content reformatted and republished from other information providers, known as Discovery partners.  When Discover first launched, Snapchat stated on its blog that the Discover partners would be editors and artists who are “world-class leaders” providing “important” content, superior to social media which shows only what is “most recent or most popular” (Team Snapchat).

The Discover feature of Snapchat generated a lot of criticism when it was new.  Among other complaints, a lot of users disliked the Discover content being featured prominently in the display and being difficult to ignore if one was using the app for other purposes such as chatting or photo sharing (Dredge).  Complaints about sexually offensive material being pushed to minors led to a class action lawsuit against Snapchat citing violations of Sections 230 and 231 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in addition to other violations of State consumer law (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).  Here is a listing of the five causes of action in the complaint (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.):

  1. Violations of Unfair Business Practices Act [Cal. Bus. & Prof.Code § 17200]
  2. Negligence
  3. Violations of 47 U.S.C. §230
  4. Unjust Enrichment
  5. Injunctive Relief

At the time of the lawsuit, around 23 percent of users of Snapchat were between the ages of 13-17 (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).  Snapchat was not accused of singling out underage users to push sexually oriented content to, rather the lawsuit was based on failing to warn users about content that was inappropriate for minors and failing to provide a way to filter out unwanted adult-oriented sexual content (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).

Here are some titles of sampled “important” articles that “world class” editors and artists selected for their users that were alleged by the plaintiffs to violate decency and consumer laws:

  • “10 Things He Thinks When He Can’t Make You Orgasm”
  • “F#ck Buddies Talk About How They Kept It Casual”
  • “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With A Penis”

In the past, marketers have been criticized for using cute animal mascots to make beer brands more appealing to minors while claiming that they are only marketing to people who are old enough to legally consume the product (Andrews, Newman).  It was alleged in the Snapchat lawsuit that some of the images accompanying the offending articles appealed to kids by showing Disney characters paired with sexually suggestive captions and an illustration showing two dolls in a dollhouse engaging in sexual intercourse (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).  In the opinion of the plaintiffs, such images appear to be “directly marketed to minors based on the use of cartoons, childhood relatable images, and very young looking models” (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).

Indecent material can be defined in different ways.  The Supreme Court considers indecent material to be “nonconformance with accepted standards of morality” (Trager et al 457).  To the FCC, indecency consists of “sexual expression and expletives” that are deemed harmful to children and therefore prohibited on broadcast television and radio at times of the day when children are likely to be exposed (Trager et al 442, 456).

By selecting and curating content, it could be argued that Snapchat took on the role of information content provider.  A Snapchat spokesperson said that “Our Discover partners have editorial independence…” (Gardner).  Snapchat may want to give the impression that the discover partners are truly independent but they can be de-platformed instantly if the CEO does not like the content they provided, as former Discover partner Yahoo found out (Flynn).

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 puts most of the burden for avoiding offensive non-broadcast content on the end user, or the parents or guardians of the end user if the person is a minor (47 U.S. Code…).  The law distinguishes between an interactive computer service, which is a passive tool for users to publish and consume the content they choose, and an information content provider that selects material for distribution (47 U.S. Code…).

However, I think a case can be made that Snapchat had a duty to warn.  Section 230 subsection D, Obligations of interactive computer service, states (47 U.S. Code…):

“A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.”

Snapchat does not allow users under the age of 13, and asks for birth dates during the signup process, so they knew that minors were using their app (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).  In that light, I think it could be argued that Snapchat was at best negligent because of their following actions:

  • Deliberately choosing brands such as Cosmopolitan, MTV, Comedy Central and Vice to provide content
  • Pushing the content headlines by making them part of the user interface so that everyone sees them without seeking them out
  • Pushing the content headlines unfiltered by age
  • Combining sexual content with images that appeal to children
  • Dishonesty about their editorial goals and standards for the Discover content

Works Cited

Andrews, Robert M. “Teetotaler Thurmond Raps Spuds MacKenzie Beer Promotion.” The Associated Press, 1987, apnews.com/article/03e7a81bdc59e057aa34abefeaa82cce. Accessed 29 November 2020.

Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc. 2:16-cv-04955. 2016. www.scribd.com/document/317726589/Snapchat-lawsuit. Accessed 28 November 2020.

Dredge, Stuart. “Snapchat redesign promotes Discover – but some users are unhappy”. Guardian News & Media Limited, 2015, www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/14/snapchat-redesign-discover-partners-stories. Accessed 29 November 2020.

Flynn, Kerry. “Snapchat Discover One Year Later: How 23 Media Companies Are Building Stories For Evan Spiegel.”  IBTimes LLC., 2016,
www.ibtimes.com/snapchat-discover-one-year-later-how-23-media-companies-are-building-stories-evan-2281851. Accessed 29 November 2020.

“47 U.S. Code § 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material.” Legal Information Institute, 2020, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230. Accessed 29 November 2020.

Gardner, Eriq. “Snapchat Sued for Exposing Kids to Media Partners’ ‘Sexually Offensive Content’.” The Hollywood Reporter, 2016, www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/snapchat-sued-exposing-kids-media-909096. Accessed 28 November 2020.

Newman, Andrew Adam. “Youngsters Enjoy Beer Ads, Arousing Industry’s Critics.” The New York Times Company, 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/business/media/youngsters-enjoy-beer-ads-arousing-industrys-critics.html. Accessed 29 November 2020.

Team Snapchat, “Introducing Discover.” Snap Inc., 2015, www.snap.com/en-US/news/post/introducing-discover/. Accessed 29 November 2020.

Trager, Robert Susan Dente Ross and Amy Reynolds. The law of journalism and mass communication. Sixth Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc. 2018.

A Comparison Between Emotional Abuse and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”

The tone of public discourse about politics in our country today alarms a lot of people of different political persuasions. Events in my recent personal history have caused me to educate myself about emotional abuse tactics that others have used against me. I’ve noticed that a lot of these tactics are prominent in social media and the “mainstream” media. It seems to permeate almost all pop culture, entertainment and “news” which is why I avoid most of it and have for many years. I thought it would be interesting to compare emotional abuse tactics that I have personally experienced with Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and see if there is any overlap.

Here are links to the source documents I used for my comparison:

And here are the results:

My Personal Experience Rules for Radicals
Intended target I was likely perceived as vulnerable because of grieving a deep personal loss and having suffered a recent and extreme career and financial downturn Low-income communities and “have nots”
Gaslighting Ex-boyfriend tried to convince me that I have a lot of illnesses and that my web site gave him a virus. Ex-boss told me I’m not smart enough to learn things in classes I wanted to take. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
Name-calling and put-downs Just in the last week I’ve had the following terms applied to me – “dumb”, “mouth-breathing”, “brain-dead”, “stupid”, “subhuman dwarf”. These were in one-on-one interactions where the people knew exactly who they were addressing.
My ex-boyfriend mocked my physical appearance and gloated and mocked me over signs that I was hurt by his actions.
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also
works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
Isolating you from your support networks My ex-boyfriend put down my family and sabotaged a reunion I had with some friends I hadn’t seen in years.
My ex-boss instructed co-workers not to help me with my projects.
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the
target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Projection – accusing you of doing things they are doing themselves My ex-boyfriend had a lot of debt and I have none but he accused me numerous times of being bad at handling money. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks When people taunt you and hurt you until you react, they can accuse you of all kinds of things, such as being neurotic and mentally ill. And that’s just the beginning! “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong Abusive people have criticized me for not having enough money then got angry at me for working too hard.
I’ve been put down for taking classes to help me with my career while simultaneously being put down by the same person for my career not being sufficiently successful. I’ve been put down for things that I think are common sense – getting exercise, wearing sunscreen, eating healthy food, losing weight, saving my retirement money for retirement, combining car trips to save on gas. An abusive ex-roommate used to put down my hair color (it was natural then!). There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of my life that is too trivial for someone else to take notice of and attack.
“Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance.

Results: there is not a one-to-one correspondence, but there is some overlap. I recommend you read the signs of emotional abuse very carefully – is someone in your personal life using those tactics against you? Is the media using those tactics against you? Are political movements using those tactics against you? I’m not pointing the finger at only one side here – I’ve been abused by people from different political points of view. My goal in writing this is to make you more aware of abuse in your life and inspire you to refuse to tolerate it – no matter who is doing it to you!