When Snapchat first hit the scene, many people assumed that it was primarily a "safe sexting" app and that users were flocking to it to send nude photos that would disappear after being viewed. That it was a digital version of '7
Minutes Seconds in Heaven' was an interpretation reinforced by this iTunes Store image of two teen girls with a timer placed where their clothes would be. Since then, Snapchat has proven itself to be an app that's about much more than sexting, as ephemerality freed users to be more prolific and creative in photo-sharing and the app moved into bigger markets, including its new media-centric Discover platform. The nearly-nude models no longer front the app's download page (thanks to a lawsuit the sisters filed against the company) and Snapchat now has an explicit "no nudes" policy for its younger users.
Last week, the $19-billion app launched a "Snapchat Safety Center" aimed at flummoxed parents and teachers who worry kids could ruin their lives by, say, snapping a photo of sex in a football stadium on Valentine's Day that then goes viral. The center includes a six-page "Parents Guide to Snapchat" and a reminder to check out Snapchat's community guidelines, which say quite explicitly, 'Don't send nude photos, y'all':
Keep it legal: Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: keep your clothes on!
What not to Snap:
- Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18)
- Minors engaged in activities that are physically dangerous and harmful
- Invasions of privacy
- Harassment or Bullying
It's clear that Snapchat doesn't want young people sending nudes; after all, any photo of a person under 18 is technically "child pornography" and thus legally toxic. Snapchat is a little ambiguous as to whether it's cool with the olds stripping down. Technically, that selfie you took of your headless, scantily-clad body could be considered "pornography," which is forbidden by the guidelines. If you do use Snapchat to send sexually-explicit contraband, the guidelines warn that you may get booted from the app.
The guidelines have been in place since October of 2013, according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine; that's six months after a scandal at a New Jersey high school where nude photos sent by teen girls through Snapchat and Instagram were posted online by a male recipient, and a year after the Internet freaked out over "Snapchat Sluts," a Tumblr that compiled screenshotted Snapchat nudes. Whether Snapchat's users actually read these guidelines—which are only available on its website, and not within the app—or take them seriously if they do is doubtful. Last week, yet another Snapchat nude scandal broke out at a middle school in Georgia, reports WSB-TV:
School officials say a girl at one of the schools sent a nude photo of herself to a male student.
On the Snapchat app, the photos are meant to disappear in a matter of seconds, but someone took a picture of the screen.
Rather the usual cycle of shame that happens after a young woman is digitally exposed, it sounds like the nude photo set off a sexting frenzy at the school:
The image quickly spread by cell phone and soon after, investigators say other students started taking and sending inappropriate pictures of themselves.
Whether it was actually a sexting solidarity movement isn't clear from the article, which is scant on details as school officials weren't eager to discuss the incident. One local parent though called it "a free for all."
Nude photos can still definitely get you into trouble, but there has been a bit of a nude photo-shaming backlash. As Mat Honan writes in Wired, "It’s time for the cultural norm that says nude photos are shameful or shocking to end. There are simply too many naked pictures of too many people."
Perhaps Snapchat should hop on board with the nudity reclamation movement as well. Nude photos have become a part of the sexual repertoire, and telling people not to take them is like telling people to protect themselves against STDs and pregnancy by being sexually abstinent. It's good advice, but rarely followed.