My name is Jennifer Stout and I serve as the Vice President of Global Public Policy at Snap Inc. , the parent company of Snapchat. It’s an honor and privilege to be back asiaten daten in the Senate 23 years after first getting my start in public service as a Senate staffer, this time in a much different capacity – to speak about Snap’s approach to privacy and safety, especially as it relates to our youngest community members. I have been in this role for nearly five years, after spending almost two decades in public service, more than half of which was spent in Congress.
To understand Snap’s approach to protecting young people on our platform, it’s helpful to start at the beginning. Snapchat’s founders were part of the first generation to grow up with social media. Like many of their peers, they saw that while social media was capable of making a positive impact, it also had certain features that negatively impacted their friendships. These platforms encouraged people to publicly broadcast their thoughts and feelings, permanently. Our founders saw how people were constantly measuring themselves against others through “likes” and comments, trying to present a version of themselves through perfectly curated images, and carefully scripting their content because of social pressure. Social media also evolved to feature an endless feed of unvetted content, exposing people to a flood of viral, misleading, and harmful content.
I have tremendous respect for this institution and the work you and your staff are doing to make sure that tech platforms ensure that our youth are having safe and healthy online experiences
Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media. In fact, we describe ourselves as a camera company. Snapchat’s architecture was intentionally designed to empower people to express a full range of experiences and emotions with their real friends, not just the pretty and perfect moments. In the formative years of our company, there were three major ways our team pioneered new inventions to prioritize online privacy and safety.
First, we era instead of a feed of content. This created a blank canvas for friends to visually communicate with each other in a way that is more immersive and creative than sending text messages.
We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel to do that
Second, we embraced strong privacy principles, data minimization, and the idea of ephemerality, making images delete-by-default. This allowed people to genuinely express themselves in the same way they would if they were just hanging out at a park with their friends. Social media may have normalized having a permanent record of conversations online, but in real life, friends don’t break out their tape recorder to document every single conversation for public consumption or permanent retention.
Third, we focused on connecting people who were already friends in real life by requiring that, by default, both Snapchatters opt-in to being friends in order to communicate. Because in real life, friendships are mutual. It’s not one person following the other, or random strangers entering our lives without permission or invitation.
Since those early days, we have worked to continue evolving responsibly. Understanding the potential negative effects of social media, we made proactive choices to ensure that all of our future products reflected those early values.
Our team was able to learn from history when confronting the challenges posed by new technology. As Snapchat evolved over time, we were influenced by existing regulatory frameworks that govern broadcast and telecommunications when developing the parts of our app where users could share content that has the potential to reach a large audience. For instance, when you talk to your friends on the phone, you have a high expectation of privacy, whereas if you are a public broadcaster with the potential to influence the minds and opinions of many, you are subject to different standards and regulatory requirements.