Snapchat's gone wild. College kids have turned one of the app's most popular features—My Story—into a crowdsourced stream of public debauchery. Last week, the campus newspaper at San Jose State University exposed one such account that depicted the X-rated side of student life, a far cry from the closely monitored and clean stories Snapchat officially runs about colleges.
The account, username SJSUYAK, was posting a steady stream of drug-filled and sexual images of students at San Jose State. Several students ran the account, and they shared the username and password with others, allowing them to collect an array of photos and videos, one student who helped manage the account told Adweek.
"Most users tend to see sexually explicit videos, alcohol and illegal drug use such as cocaine lines and bong hits," wrote Andrea Sandoval for the Spartan Daily, referring to the content on SJSUYAK.
After the article ran, Snapchat shut the account down, according to the student who asked to remain anonymous. (Snapchat declined a request for comment.) Even still, the group launched a similar account with a new username by the weekend.
Social apps sometimes struggle to find that balance between G- and X-rated content, but it's becoming a crucial part of their mission as they try to win mainstream acceptance and attract advertisers. The example of SJSUYAK shows that policing for objectionable content takes constant monitoring, and even that often falls short.
"The Snapchat account is shut down; however, there are multiple backup accounts," Sandoval said by email. "I believe there is one mastermind behind it all."
There is no way to know if all the contributors to these accounts are college students. Still, it appeared that mostly students were discussing SJSUYAK on Twitter, where some expressed disappointment about the account shutting down before a new one replaced it.
The campus video compilations look much like an official Snapchat Story, which allows the public to submit videos and photos about a specific location or event. Snapchat then compiles such posts and calls them "Our Story." They run on a number of college campuses and also can be dedicated to shared experiences like New Year's Eve and March Madness.
Snapchat has said all Stories combined, public and private, attract more than 1 billion views on an active day. The company has been selling sponsorships, some for as much as $750,000 a day, on the official Stories.
Snapchat censors decide which submissions are included in public Stories, reviewing all posts before choosing what goes up. And they wind up being pretty tame. An account like SJSUYAK offers a view of what Stories would look like unfiltered—lots of nudity, explicit sex, drugs and a general party atmosphere.
The "Yak" in the username was based on another app popular on college campuses, Yik Yak, which lets students post anonymous messages to a virtual public bulletin board. Yik Yak has caused problems for some college administrators, who take issue with the unfettered free speech, which sometimes targets individuals and turns into bullying.
Snapchat has policies against pornography and depictions of illegal activity. It also retains the right to block any account it wants, according to its user policies.
Snapchat has been trying to polish its image as it grows into a $15 billion tech company with ambitions as a new media empire safe for advertisers. It has attracted big-name advertisers and media companies like ESPN, Vice and Comedy Central, which run their own channels on the app.
Snapchat is not alone in trying to curb the baser elements corrupting parts of social media.
Recently, Twitter developed tools to fight harassment and block hate messages. Its new filter has had early success, according to some users.
While Twitter cleans up its main platform, vitriol is springing up on its latest app, Periscope, where people can share live video from anywhere in the world. Last week, incidents of harassment surfaced, particularly women being hounded with unwanted sexual comments.
Facebook, known for strict decency rules, also constantly polices its network for hateful pages and pornography. The social network recently updated its community guidelines to encourage more civility. Facebook also is working on a video-sharing app called Riff, which is similar to Snapchat's Stories, where users send semipublic videos to one another in an ever-growing messaging chain.
Meanwhile, SJSUYAK is gone, and students who opened the new account said they changed the name so it doesn't appear to be affiliated with the college.
Sandoval wrote in her newspaper article that such accounts raise privacy concerns for students, who may not want their private moments to be captured and shared.