Snapchat is becoming ‘gossip’ site for teenage gang sex and violence, investigation finds

Posted: 14th June 2023

Source: Daily Telegraph

The social media app is being used to film and broadcast assaults, raids of people’s homes and sexual abuse.

Snapchat is putting children at risk by becoming the go-to “gossip” site for teenage gang sex and violence, an investigation has found.

The messaging app – widely used by children as young as eight – is fuelling the spread of illicit sexual and violent content because of its design, according to the study by Revealing Reality, a research body which has worked for the watchdog Ofcom and BBC.

It has become the “platform of choice” because of three key features: that messages disappear after 24 hours, that teenagers can be “friends” with up to 6,000 people and its capability to set up chat groups of up to 101 people.

This meant Shapchat had become a “local news site” for many young, urban teenagers on which they filmed assaults, raids of people’s homes and sexual abuse including even a rape.

“As a place to share illicit content, it makes sense that Snapchat is the platform of choice. By default, Stories disappear after 24-hours and Snaps disappear after they’ve been viewed,” said the researchers.

“Some accounts operate more like broadcasters – distributing local ‘gossip’ to large numbers of followers – videos of fights, threats, leaked nudes.”

Underage children using app

For the research, Revealing Reality conducted in-depth interviews with teenagers aged 14 to 17, youth workers, teachers and police officers.

According to Ofcom, some 28 per cent of children aged eight to 11 are on Snapchat despite the minimum age limit being 13. It rises to 64 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds and 74 per cent of 16 to 17 year olds. Most of the children interviewed for the research had registered as over 18 with Snapchat to avoid privacy protections.

The children who were surveyed described seeing content that included fights between individuals and groups with and without weapons, gang threats, violence, fatal injuries, stabbings, “raids” involving break-ins to people’s homes, “leaked videos” of sexual activity and weapons and drugs advertised for sale.

One of the children, Ayeesha, 14, told researchers she had even seen a video of a rape in a location that she recognised as a local park. “A boy raped a girl and videoed it and sent it around Snapchat and everywhere. And then I realised it was near the basketball courts,” she said.

Default is to film fights

Researchers found there was an abundant source of content as the default behaviour for teenagers when they saw a fight was to capture it on camera. “[If someone was hurt] even when you have a chance to save someone, people’s first thought is to record it on their phones,” said Michael, a youth worker.

Most children in the research were in large group chats comprising a whole school year, a youth club or people from the same area. Although the number of “friends” is capped at 6,000, there is no limit to the number of people that could add you as a friend, meaning some accounts could have far more than 6,000 followers.

Bigger accounts which shared violent and sexual content often posted not in a personal capacity but more like a broadcaster with themes such as “[place name] fights,” or “bait out” pages where nude or sexual images were shared, said the researchers.

Snapchat tells its users that Snaps and chats are private, although the platform said any content recommended to larger audiences would be proactively moderated to a higher standard than content shared between friends.

‘It serves as the local news’

However, the researchers countered: “Given that many profiles are ‘friends’ with thousands of other accounts, content shared only between ‘friends’ can still circulate among large audiences, very quickly, without meeting this threshold.”

Damon De Ionno, managing director of Revealing Reality, said: “Our research suggests that Snapchat’s design features not only enable the sharing of unpleasant and illegal material, but in some cases motivate the behaviour that leads to its creation.

“We have seen that Snapchat is being used by some people to arrange and amplify fights, build and destroy reputations, reinforce geographical rivalries. For certain demographics – young, urban, disadvantaged – it serves as the local news.”

Snapchat said there was no place for sexual or violent content on the platform. “If we identify content like this being shared, we remove it immediately and take appropriate action,” said a spokesman.

Categories: News