Snapchat sued for exposing kids to sexually offensive content

Snapchat sued for exposing kids to sexually offensive content
© Getty Images

The guardian of a 14-year-old Los Angeles boy is filing a class action lawsuit against Snapchat, alleging the social media company is violating online decency laws. 

The lawsuit alleges that the company is intentionally exposing minors to offensive and sexually offensive content without warning, in violation of the Communications Decency Act. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The lawsuit focuses on Snapchat’s “Discover” feature, which is distinct from its more popular messaging tool that allows people to communicate one-on-one or to publish their own collection of pictures and videos. Snapchat’s “Discover” feature partners with a series of news and media organizations, which produce content specifically for the social media platform. 

The lawsuit specifically called out content produced by Vice News, Buzzfeed and MTV. The lawsuit made reference to numerous suggestive headlines, including “10 things he thinks when he can’t make you orgasm” and “I got high, blown, and robbed when I was a pizza delivery guy.”

Snapchat said it gives its media partners independence. 

"We haven't been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended. Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support,” a spokesperson said. 

The Communications Decency Act requires internet services to notify users that parental controls are commercially available to help block material that may be harmful to minors. The lawsuit claims that is especially important for Snapchat because nearly a quarter of its tens of millions of users are under the age of 18. 

The lawsuit claims those warnings do not exist in the app. 

Snapchat’s community guidelines note that it bars accounts that publicly distribute sexually explicit content and tells users never to post nude images of people under the age of 18. But the lawsuit says those guidelines are meant for the general public and not Snapchat’s Discover partners. 

The Communications Decency Act includes a provision that protects social media companies and other online platforms from liability for third-party content their users post on the platform. 

The lawsuit, though, claims Snapchat “exercises direct control” over the content in Discover and shares ad revenue with media partners.  

“Snapchat is not an idle or passive observer of content published by third-party publishers on Snapchat Discover,” according to the lawsuit. “Rather, it is involved in all aspects and all decisions made regarding content that is ultimately published.”

The lawsuit was brought by Lynette Young, who is represented by the Los Angeles law firm Geragos & Geragos. The firm’s website touts previous notable clients like Chris Brown, Roger Clinton, Andy Dick and Michael Jackson. 

The lawsuit asks the court to require Snapchat to pay financial penalties and to include warnings in the app in the future.