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Is Snapchat Peddling Porn?

03/09/2015 04:03 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2015

Snapchat, the messaging service that made sexting easier (and supposedly safer) now appears to be doubling down on peddling porn to young people through Snapcash.

Snapchat's ephemeral messages have always been used to transmit racy photos. Before Snapchat became popular, sexting was a dangerous game - one could only pray that the user at the other end would not share the images or video with the rest of the internet. Those prayers often went rejected; there are a million horror stories of naked pictures ending up across the web. A blink-and-it's-gone alternative felt safer and less risky, and it became immediately popular with the college (and high school) crowd.

The fairly new Snapcash feature allows the same users to instantly send each other money within the app, and naturally, it's already being used to transmit pay-for-play pornographic imagery and videos. Strippers and porn stars are making money showing off their goods. As you could expect from a company reportedly worth $19 billion, Snapchat vehemently denies any anticipation of this usage, but the facts surrounding the situation suggest they knew exactly what they were getting into.

Snapcash is designed to transfer money quickly and easily. Users simply put a dollar sign before the amount they wish to send, causing the send button to change to a green money sign button. Then, users swipe to the messenger part of Snapchat, choose who they want to transfer the money to and press send. Users' debit cards must be linked to Square, a partner, for the process to work.

The new feature has propelled Snapchat's entry into the porn industry. The New York Times recently reported that porn stars are using Snapcash to send videos and photos of themselves naked for a small fee. The transactions are inexpensive and can cost anywhere from $1 to $5 for just a few photos. However prices for personalized sex shows can run into the double digits. Strippers are finding Snapcash to be a surprisingly lucrative vehicle for pornographic distribution.

While Snapchat itself may be feigning shock, is this turn of events all that surprising? The company was already facing media reports that its Snapchat Stories were turning teenagers into amateur porn stars. Did they legitimately think adding a payment feature wouldn't exacerbate this problem? The object of Snapcash is to allow users to send each other quick, easy, and covert payments for material that disappears shortly after you open it, leaving essentially no trace. That sounds like an invitation for users to pay for sexually explicit content! Moreover, mobile has become a popular platform for pornography. According to a recent study by Juniper Research, porn video chats and subscription services on mobile devices will account for $2.8 billion in revenue this year.

The most comical part about this entire debacle has been Snapchat's reaction to it. Not only does the company expect us to believe they had no intention of encouraging pornographic use of the app, but they are also "going parental" on their teenage audience. In addition to making clear that it does not condone or allow the use of Snapcash for transferring pornographic imagery, the company also posted new guidelines for users that read as follows:

"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!"

Shenanigans? Is that a legal term? Snapchat is run by a very young group of entrepreneurs, and it's the app geared towards younger audiences - their primary users are teenagers, so why is the company speaking like a "wholesome" 50's television parent? This sentiment also seems a bit hypocritical coming from the company whose early success was based on sexting.

Let's be honest: Snapchat is no ingénue. This is a company on the verge of a $19 billion dollar valuation that was smart enough, and confident enough to turn down Facebook's offer to buy them. The idea that Snapchat had no idea that their new feature would propel them into the world of pornography seems to be absolutely ludicrous. Globally porn is a $97 billion dollar industry, with about about 12% of the entire internet dedicated to it.

Aside from the financial opportunity, what exactly did Snapchat think young adults would pay for using Snapcash? What is worth buying that will disappear seconds after you've seen it - meaning overprotective parents won't be able to find it in your search history? It should be obvious. When it comes to human flesh people have been buying and selling sex since the beginning of time. Now they can do it over the internet, phone to phone.

And their choice of partner for this venture - Snapchat's very first partnership - also suggests that very notion. Square is no stranger to the sex industry. The company has served as the payment platform for sex-workers to receive compensation from their loaded Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur clients.

Pornography has promulgated many tech innovations in the last generation, from VHS tapes to interactive CDs and DVDs, and finally to advance the entire internet. It seems pretty obvious that an audience of hormonally-charged teenagers, when given the opportunity, will pay for sexual content that will discreetly leave nothing in their search history. Snapchat should own up to what they're trying to do and cease its 50's style parenting approach. Let everyone know that sex sells - and they're okay with it. The Snapchat audience, from teenagers to young adults, can and will spend on pornography, as they have proven many times over. Perhaps Snapchat should do themselves a favor and rebrand Snapcash to what it should have been called in the first place: Snapsex.

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