Sep. 16, 2013 at 4:06 PM ET
Snapchat would love to rehab its bad reputation as a self-destructing sexting app for teens, but it just can't catch a break.
Just last Monday, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel told the San Francisco audience at the TechCrunch disrupt conference that his mobile messaging app — which destroys sent photos and texts after just 10 seconds — is "not a good way to send inappropriate photos." On that same day, police in Fargo, N.D., executed a search warrant on a 13-year-old girl's phone, following a fight between her 15-year-old brother and another boy, also 15, who sent her Snapchat photos of his genitals, North Dakota news site Inforum reports.
It's not clear what cops hope to find, given the intended short lives of Snapchat messages, and the records aren't public because everyone involved is a minor. But the boy allegedly behind the junkshot selfies claimed he sent the pics as part of a consensual exchange of pics with the girl, who denied she sent any nude photos of herself at all.
It's not the first, or even the worst, story of teens, apps and sexting — Snapchat or otherwise — and it isn't the last. Snapchat, however, gets a lot of attention from parenting groups these days, given its early reputation as the "safe sexting app" for its chief audience of 13- to 23-year-olds, and stories of how easy it is to "save" these allegedly temporary photos — via screen shots or other simple methods of data retrieval. "Snapchat’s main feature may be implying a false sense of security," noted parenting site Your Sphere in a post titled "Snapchat makes sexting easy."
The ongoing news stories don't help. In the case in Fargo, the fight between the two 15-year-old boys olds resulted after the brother saw the explicit Snapchat photo sent to his sister, Inforum reports. "The police say in court filings that the older brother saw the [genitals] photo the boy shared with his sister," said Inforum. In response, big brother invited the other boy (via Snapchat) to meet him and sis at local convenience store, Kum & Go, "to talk about the situation."
Talking, however, is not what brought the police, who arrived to find the brother "with 'a significant amount' of blood on the left side of his face coming from a cut on his eyebrow, with dried blood around his nose and down his face."
Everyone involved in the report are teens, but last April, a 32-year-old Oregon City high school teacher reportedly sent a Snapchat pic of his (fully clothed) crotch to a 16-year-old student — who had previously sent him photos of herself in her underwear, the Oregonian reports. Police learned of the exchanges after the student's friend reported the images to her parents. Despite Snapchat expiration, "It's hard to keep secrets around teens," Clackamas County prosecutor Bryan Brock told the Oregonian.
According to an FBI warning, pedophiles encourage young people to use Snapchat to send nude photos of themselves, with the promise these images will disappear.
Adults fall victim to unsolicited sexts as well. Ohio resident Molly French received lewd photos from an anonymous sender, 10TV.com reported in August. She was unable to share the evidence with police, however, because the photos disappeared.
Connect Safely, an online safety organization, notes that while Snapchat is "often referred to as 'the sexting app,' there’s no research showing that’s true and plenty of anecdotal evidence that it isn’t the focus for teens, but — like any media-sharing service — Snapchat can be used for sexting and harassment. It can be particularly hurtful if that happens, because Snapchat is typically used among friends (or at least people who have each other’s username or phone numbers)."
As Snapchat CEO Spiegel said at TechCrunch Disrupt, "We don't want to be a place for people to share mean secrets."
Given that many kids are now equipped with what sex advice columnist Dan Savage calls "pocket porn studios," (you know, smartphones), it's disingenuous of Snapchat to claim it's not a sexting-friendly app, even if it doesn't encourage that behavior. Not that Snapchat, or any other form of technology, is the cause of what hormonal kids do; it's just the delivery system. But the app's creators, like parents, need to admit this happens and deal with it.