Snapchat 'Has Become A Haven' For Child Predators, Criminal Justice Scholar Says

Download Audio
The logo of mobile app Snapchat. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)
The logo of mobile app Snapchat. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

Snapchat is popular among child predators, who use the app to contact kids and to send and receive child pornography. And because the photos and messages disappear, it's hard for investigators to gather evidence.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Adam Scott Wandt (@Prof_Wandt), assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, about the problem.

Interview Highlights

On the amount of predatory behavior on Snapchat

"Snapchat has become a haven for child predators to be able to both exchange child pornography with each other, and to be able to induce children to send pictures of them to the predator. And we're also seeing difficulty in law enforcement being able to investigate due to the safeguards Snapchat has in deleting both snaps and 'stories' after certain amounts of time."

On snaps disappearing within a few seconds in some cases

"Snapchat supports different methods of communication: snap 'stories' and chats. Some disappear as soon as they're open and read, others stay around for a day or so. Some could stay as long as 30 days. But if law enforcement doesn't know that this is going on and they don't get to Snapchat on time with their legal process to request or to preserve the evidence, they lose it forever."

"We have children all over the country that are being approached by people they think are children their own age, but really they are predators, they are adults who are significantly older than them."

Adam Scott Wandt

On challenges for investigators

"It's really difficult, unless an investigator is able to either get to Snapchat within 24 hours of the snap being exchanged, or unless they're able to pre-identify who the predator is and set up an operation with Snapchat where they're monitoring that offender. It's extremely hard to do. We have children all over the country that are being approached by people they think are children their own age, but really they are predators, they are adults who are significantly older than them, and have fake profiles to try to lure the children to send them photos that could either be nude or of them doing other things."

On what parents can do to protect their children

"Parents are absolutely the first and most important defense in protecting their children from online predators. Parents have to be astute and educated as to what is going on in the online environment. They need to be able to monitor their children's social media account. The Megan Meier Foundation, which looks at and studies online cyberbullying, they find that about 60 percent of parents check their kids' social media. Thirty-five percent of parents know their children's password to social media accounts, which is important, too. But ultimately one of the things, one of the problems that we see happen over and over again are children who have multiple social media accounts that their parents don't know about."

On possible steps toward solving the problem

"Snapchat is unique because of that disappearing trick, or the fact that they clear the photographs from their servers after a certain amount of time. That makes it extremely unique for investigators to have to try to deal with, and it makes it a safe haven for predators who wanna be able to abuse children and exchange pictures with very little repercussions. I would think that certain things could be put in place to make it safer for children. The use of artificial intelligence and the ability to vet users as they sign up is something that's gonna become much more important in the years to come, and ultimately we should be able to solve this problem over time, but it's certainly not gonna be easy."

On Snapchat's young user base

"Snapchat has always had a younger clientele than the other social media networks. Snapchat is extremely popular with the younger elementary school [children] and the younger high school children in society today, and percentage-wise, it's extremely interesting that more and more young people are abandoning Facebook and Instagram — which is where their parents and family are — and adopting Snapchat for their main method of social communication."

This article was originally published on January 22, 2018.

This segment aired on January 22, 2018.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live