Snapchat accused of exposing kids to 'profoundly sexual content'

Lawsuit accuses the app maker of routinely showing minors sexually explicit images without warning.

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A 14-year-old boy and his mother have filed a lawsuit against Snapchat, alleging that the photo- and video-sharing app's Discover service routinely exposes minors to sexually explicit content without warning them or their parents.

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday by celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos in US District Court for Central California, accuses Snapchat of violating the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law intended to regulate pornographic material on the internet.

Snapchat, once known as the "sexting" app of choice because photos sent on the service disappear after a set length of time, has been branching out into original content to attract new users. The John Doe lawsuit specifically focuses on Discover, which was launched in January 2015 to serve editorial and multimedia content from major brands such as BuzzFeed, Fusion, MTV and Cosmopolitan.

The complaint alleges that the unnamed boy was exposed to Disney characters in sexually explicit conditions as part of a photo collage titled "23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You've Ever Had Sex With A Penis" served up on the Discover channels from BuzzFeed. The lawsuit goes on to list several other articles with similarly suggestive titles the boy was exposed to during the first week of July.

"Millions of parents in the United States today are unaware that Snapchat is curating and publishing this profoundly sexual and offensive content to their children," the lawsuit says. "By engaging in such conduct directed at minors, and making it simple and easy for users to 'snap' each other content from Snapchat Discover, Snapchat is reinforcing the use of its service to facilitate problematic communications, such as 'sexting,' between minors. Snapchat has placed profit from monetizing Snapchat Discover over the safety of children."

Apple's App Store rates Snapchat as appropriate for users 12 and older, although its terms of service specify users should be at least 13 years old.

Representatives for the Venice, Calif.-based startup said they couldn't comment on the lawsuit but apologized for any offense taken.

"We haven't been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended," a Snapchat spokesman said in a statement. "Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support."

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, seeks civil penalties as well as an in-app warning about the possible sexual content.