Snapchat’s Most Popular Feature Is Making It Tougher to Catch Pedophiles

November 8, 2017, 8:16 PM UTC

Pedophiles are increasingly using disappearing photo app Snapchat as their go-to sexual exploitation tool, law enforcement officials have warned.

Criminal cases involving adults using Snapchat to exploit minors for sexual gratification is on the rise, Bloomberg reported. And that’s problematic because the cornerstone of the tool is its disappearing messages. What makes Snapchat so attractive to teens is the same feature that makes finding evidence of sexual exploitation so difficult, according to investigators.

Sextortion, in which an individual threatens to expose sexual images of another person, has become particularly problematic on social networks and messaging platforms. The Brookings Institution examined 78 cases of sextortion, which involved at least 1,397 victims, and found that 71% targeted victims under the age of 18. Social media manipulation was used in 91% of the cases, the Brookings Institution said.

Bloomberg cited a study by Crimes against Children Research Center of the University of New Hampshire that found in its examination of an anonymous online survey that 54% of these sextortion victims were contacted by perpetrators through social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Another 41% were through messaging platforms such as Snapchat and Kik. Video voice call programs such as Facetime followed at 23% and dating platforms like OKCupid and Tinder represented 9% of cases in the survey.

Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, says it’s fighting back to help prevent such crimes from happening to any of its 178 million users, many of whom are young people. The company didn’t provide Bloomberg details of how it protects users, except to say its uses automated systems and staffers. The company is also making it easier to report abuse.

This isn’t Snap’s only problem. The company reported disappointing earnings in the third quarter of 2017. Snap’s overall loss was $443.2 million or 36 cents a share on revenue of $207.9 million per share. Wall Street had anticipated loss of $393.8 million or 32 cents a share on revenue of $235.5 million. About 9% of its third-quarter losses, or about $39.9 million, stemmed from a lack of demand for its $130 sunglasses-and-camera hybrid.