Snapchat Is Trying to Get Publishers to Cut Back on Racy and Misleading Content

Cleaning up Discover ahead of a spring IPO

Headshot of Marty Swant

Snapchat Discover is one of today's hottest sources of news, but it's possibly … too hot?

With an expected IPO just months away, Snapchat wants to start cleaning up Discover's often racy content—created by a select group of publishers including Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan and MTV—by moving away from headlines such as "I lost a breast to a nipple ring" and "The Naughtiest Pasta Shapes Ever."

Snapchat parent Snap Inc. is making some updates to its guidelines for publishers to hold them more accountable for creating content that's "informative, factual and safe."

So what will users discover in a more tasteful Snapchat? It depends partially on age. Publishers will have to be more conscious about what's "suitable" for anyone under 18. According to Snap, "nudity, pornographic imagery and other indecent, obscene or profane content" will be off-limits unless they use an "age-gate" for inappropriate photos, videos and text. Content that is age-gated will remain that way for the full edition of that day's content, but Snap says it will allow for exceptions when content has relevant news value. (The company is leaving editorial judgment up to individual publishers.)

While the updates prohibit sexual content from the tiles that preview Discover stories, publishers will still be allowed to display obscene content and profanity in age-gated areas for users over 18. The new policies will also have "better defined guidance" on what's considered too sensitive or sexualized.

The company is also making moves to block the kind of fake news that has somewhat sullied the reputations of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. According to Snap, all content should be fact-checked for accuracy, and outbound links should stay away from anything considered "deceptive, misleading or fraudulent." 

The new guidelines go into effect this week, with age-gating tools becoming available early next month.

"We take the responsibility of being a source of news, entertainment and information for our community of more than 150 million daily active Snapchatters very seriously," a Snapchat spokesperson said on Monday in a statement emailed to Adweek. "Snapchatters are curious about the world. They want to know about what's important, not just what's popular. They want to see and experience new things—unique stories from credible voices and varied perspectives."

Over the past few months, publishers' stories seem to have become more racy in nature, even as Snapchat has tried to move away from being seen as a sexting app. The scrubbing of inappropriate content comes as the company prepares to hit the road to raise funds this spring for an initial public offering, which could be valued as high as $25 billion.

This is the first time Discover has updated its content guidelines since debuting two years ago this month. The company said more than 100 million users now view Discover content each year, while the total number of publishers included in that part of the app continues to grow.

While Snapchat has been positioning itself as a platform for a variety of ages, it's certainly still seen by many media companies and marketers as something for a younger crowd. (On any given day, Snapchat reaches around 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S.)

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.