Snapchat realizes porn is bad for business

Snapchat has decided to pull “Cosmo After Dark,” a highly controversial pornographic channel, shortly after launching it after receiving pushback from parents for its explicit nature as well as the inability to restrict access to content.

Cosmopolitan magazine described the app as “an X-rated weekly edition that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. and is exclusively dedicated to all things hot and h*rny.”

According to “Protect Young Eyes,” an educational group which advocates for the safety of kids against hidden threats targeting young people online, “Cosmo After Dark seems to include a new, more pornographic level of sexualized content, even by Snapchat’s standards. … Snapchat seems desperate.”

Funny they should say Snapchat seems desperate. On May 2, the company’s stock closed at an all-time low, and investors were warned that revenue growth would slow significantly in the next quarter. Not including story ads, the company’s ad prices saw a 65 percent drop in the first quarter.

However, on May 21, just three days after launching the controversial new porn feature, with no parental controls, their stock jumped back up. A MoffettNathanson analyst said the app could see an increase in users and changed the stock from “sell” to “neutral.”

This new effort by Cosmo was even more unsettling because they specifically targeted kids, and Snapchat didn’t care (until parents were alerted) because they had shareholders they needed to keep happy. Someone clearly decided this was a quick, easy way to boost that stock value.

Coincidence?  Anything is possible. However if you’re skeptical you would have good reason.

Protect Young Eyes’ founder, Chris McKenna, in talking with 240 eighth graders, discovered that roughly 80 percent of them use Snapchat regularly. That is an alarmingly high percentage of kids who were given uncensored access to explicit pornographic material.

The whole idea of Snapchat originated with college kids after someone decided "I wish these photos I am sending this girl would disappear.” In other words, the app itself was initially designed with the express purpose of making sexting less risky.

There is a culture war going on, and parents need to be vigilant in this age of social media. Thanks to these watchdog groups, and the pressure from parents who are doing their best to keep up with the barrage of online dangers inundating kids, Snapchat chose to do the right thing and cancel the feature in spite of the potential financial benefit.

Using sex to sell a product dates back to the beginning of advertising and that hasn’t changed today. Advertisers still default to the age-old philosophy that sex sells, and they still have a tendency to use sex in marketing their products.

While the advertising strategy may not have changed, what has changed is what’s at stake. The risk factors today are much higher as technology has infiltrated society and been made accessible to kids of all ages in various forms 24/7. The direct access available to young people demands that parents be even more aware.

The development of the Internet led to increased pornography addictions given that the material is so easily accessible.

In 2010, 47 percent of families in the U.S. said their home had a problem with pornography, according to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. 

Boys age 12-17 years old were the most at risk. According to Dr. Marysia Weber, an osteopathic family physician certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, “Addictions typically happen with adults—we’ve never had a group addicted which is so young and growing in numbers.”

Dr. Weber also warned that boys who become addicted to Internet pornography at such a young age can negatively impact both society as a whole plus their marriages and families down the road.  She added early addiction can lead to behavior problems and a greater (and even more destructive) interest in illegal pornography.

It’s literally everywhere now. The temptation is right in front of you 24/7, while at work, on your phone, wherever you are. This new effort by Cosmo was even more unsettling because they specifically targeted kids, and Snapchat didn’t care (until parents were alerted) because they had shareholders they needed to keep happy. Someone clearly decided this was a quick, easy way to boost that stock value.

Wall Street is agnostic about what sells, until and unless there’s a public outrage.

This new world we live in, so driven by technology, requires parents to always be on guard; it also places a responsibility on companies and advertisers. They need to rethink their strategy and consider more than just their wallets.

If you are marketing a product that you know is reaching kids who are underage, who are able to readily access unfiltered information, keep in mind that just because you have the “right” to do something, doesn’t make it the right thing to do.  If companies don’t think there’s a price to be paid for that, they’re kidding themselves.

Lauren DeBellis Appell, a freelance writer in Fairfax, Virginia, was deputy press secretary for then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in his successful 2000 re-election campaign, as well as assistant communications director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee (2001-2003).