A class action filed in federal court in Los Angeles Thursday claims Venice-based Snapchat Inc. exposes minors to sexually explicit material without providing proper parental controls.
The lawsuit, filed by downtown L.A.’s Geragos & Geragos on behalf of a 14-year -old John Doe plaintiff and 150 million other Snapchat users, alleges the company’s service violates the Communications Decency Act.
“Snapchat is currently engaged in an insidious pattern and practice of intentionally exposing minors to harmful, offensive, prurient, and sexually offensive content, without warning minors or their parents that they would be exposed to such explicit content,” the complaint reads.
Geragos himself said he was “shocked” to learn about the lack of parental controls and warnings about the app’s explicit content.
“It’s shocking to me that this is something that actually occurs,” he said. “I’m shocked that they would allow this to happen and I’m shocked that they wouldn’t know there’s a $50,000 penalty per occurrence.”
Geragos’ liability theory is tied to the company’s Snapchat Discover feature, which publishes content from third-parties such as Vice and Buzzfeed. The lawsuit maintains that Snapchat “exercises significant control, and in some cases complete control” over this content and is not just a publishing platform.
Content named in the lawsuit as objectionable includes articles entitled “10 Things He Thinks When He Can’t Make You Orgasm,” “People Tell Us Their Weirdest Stoner Snacks,” and “23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With A Penis.”
In a statement, Snapchat said it was still waiting to review a copy of the complaint, but offered an apology to those offended by any of the content put out by its partners. The company also disagreed with the characterization it exercised any, let alone complete, control over the published materials.
“We haven’t been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended,” the statement reads. “Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support.”
The suit’s theory of liability could hinge on whether these partners are ultimately considered independent or not. The Communications Decency Act has been curtailed on constitutional grounds to protect digital publishing platforms from liability for what users post.