Snapchat has unveiled a plan to make its disappearing photo app safer for children and teens. The new features, which include allowing parents to see who their children are talking to on the app, are part of the app’s Family Center, which will roll out through the fall months.
“Today, Snapchat is a central communications tool for young people, and as our community continues to grow, we know parents and caregivers want additional ways to help keep their teens safe,” Snapchat said in its announcement on Tuesday. People as young as 13 years old can use the app, prompting the company to work with families and experts to create “extra protections” for teens.
The newest feature is an in-app tool called Family Center that allows parents to oversee their children’s accounts.
The home area of the Family Center displays three options: view the child’s friends, see who they’ve messaged in the past week and report abuse or safety concerns. The feature will not allow parents to see the contents of any of the conversations their children are having.
“Family Center is designed to reflect the way that parents engage with their teens in the real world, where parents usually know who their teens are friends with and when they are hanging out — but don’t eavesdrop on their private conversations,” the company said. “…Our goal is to help empower parents and teens in a way that still protects a teenager’s autonomy and privacy.”
Snapchat also plans to roll out a feature in the coming weeks for parents to see new friends their children have added to their accounts. This fall, the company will also add content controls for parents and a feature that allows teens to notify parents when they report a problematic account or content.
The Family Center is a new addition to other features Snapchat has for its teen users. Currently, teen users must be mutual friends with someone before they can communicate with them on the app, and they do not have public profiles. Their accounts also only show up in the “suggested friend” area of Snapchat or in search results in “limited instances,” Snapchat said, such as if there is a mutual friend.
The news comes days after Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, introduced the Combating Harmful Actions with Transparency on Social Act of 2022, or the CHATS Act, to the House. The bill would modify the federal crime reporting system to include data from internet platforms related to criminal offenses.
In a July post and livestream on Facebook, Gottheimer said the bill is a way to “combat social media preying on our children.”
“The lack of transparency and accountability for these companies has led to grave consequences for our families and our country,” he said. The livestream also featured celebrity therapist Laura Berman and Samuel Chapman, whose 16-year-old son died from an overdose after buying fentanyl-laced Xanax from a drug dealer on Snapchat.
“Sammy was able to buy drugs on Snapchat as easily as he would order a pizza,” Berman says in a PSA about her son’s 2021 death. “They were delivered to our home in the middle of the night and were laced with lethal fentanyl without his knowledge. And that’s what killed him.”