An Open Letter to Snap, Inc. Founder & CEO on Putting Profits Above Children’s Safety
April 17th, 2023
Dear Mr. Spiegel,
Snapchat’s own community guidelines begin: “At Snapchat, we contribute to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.”
Perhaps if I were authoring that statement, from everything that I now know, I would write: “At Snapchat, we contribute to the rising suicide rate among children, the decline in our nation’s mental health, and provide a platform for bullies and illegal drug dealers to harm children.”
A year ago, I wrote you following the loss of my 15-year-old son Nate, a wonderful, vibrant young man who was harassed and cyberbullied by at least seven Latin School of Chicago classmates who posted and reposted a Snapchat message that viciously attacked and threatened him with physical and deadly harm. As you might recall, one Latin School of Chicago student even went so far as to send my son a message through Snapchat that read “go kill yourself” prior to his death.
In my 2022 note to you as Snapchat’s founder and CEO, I sought answers about what happened to my son over Snapchat, how it was allowed to happen and what you were doing to help hold the cyberbullies responsible.
In that same note, I also urged you and Snapchat to work with us and other survivor families who have been victimized by cyberbullying and drug sales over Snapchat to implement meaningful parental controls on your platform that would allow parents to monitor the messages their children receive via Snapchat to help prevent the needless deaths of any more children.
A year later all that my family, other survivor families and those of children still being cyberbullied and sold deadly drugs over Snapchat have from you is empty corporate speak and a company CEO who spends his time talking to Wall Street about user growth, artificial intelligence and Snapchat’s international expansion.
Snapchat has done and said little about creating a safer environment for children who use your platform. Dick Durbin, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, was right in recently labelling social media companies like yours that rake in the profits by exploiting children and families without any accountability or liability part of “a suicide pact.”
I guess supplying a dangerous and deadly platform that survivor families hold culpable for harming and killing children is trumped by your business growth aspirations.
In 2022, Snap, Inc. brought in $4.6 billion in revenue from its business, a 12 percent increase over the prior year. This included millions in positive operating cash flow that could have been used to invest in improving safety efforts and making necessary changes to your algorithmic products to better protect younger users.
You would think this would be a bigger priority for you. Your company is already under consent decrees from U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of Maryland for illegally and systematically lying to your users about your disappearing messages and their data privacy. Under those agreements, Snap, Inc. must take numerous steps including conducting independent privacy audits, providing the government annual compliance reports and implementing practices and measures to prevent minors from creating accounts. I and other survivor families will not let you and your company continue to remain in the shadows, hiding behind these consent decrees and campaigns claiming doing something would violate the made-up data privacy rights of our children from parental oversight. We demand you and government regulators immediately and publicly release all the independent privacy audits, annual compliance reports and related mandated consent decree reports on your operations you have compiled since 2014.
Let the light in. I am sure you have nothing to hide. Let us see how you are “contribute[ing] to human progress.”
What will it take for you and your company to be more transparent and take real action? It’s time to stem the teen cyberbullying and illegal drug epidemic your platform is fueling and the algorithmic products you design to keep users engaged and focused on the content snapping across your platform.
Would it take the loss of one of your children?
Would news that we lost every child attending eight entire high schools forever to suicide do it?
Would you be shocked? Would you demand action?
In reality, we have lost that many children. Since 2007 during the age of social media’s rise, U.S. youth suicides for ages 10–19 are up 14 percent over the average annual suicide rate for that age group during the last four decades, U.S. Centers for Disease Control data reveals.
That’s thousands upon thousands of children who will never reach the age of 20.
In 2022, my only son, Nathan Isaac Bronstein, joined them. He will forever be 15 years old.
As you well know, our son’s tragic loss is far from an isolated occurrence. Across the 50 states, there are similar heartbreaking stories of hundreds of digitally connected 10–19-year-olds who have taken their own life after being cyberbullied on your platform and other social media.
The fact remains: Youth cyberbullying is now the second largest discipline issue in public schools today, more than doubling during the past decade with more than 95 percent of the 54 million U.S. school-aged children now owning or having access to a smartphone — the cyberbullies’ weapon of choice that Snapchat converts into a fully automatic weapon for them.
Nationally, more than a third of all students will now report experiencing cyberbullying before finishing high school.
There is a growing body of both real world and clinical evidence showing that youth who experience cyberbullying through social media and other digital products face a measurable increased risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Multiple clinical studies suggest that adolescents and teens are up to four times more likely to inflict self-harm, attempt or commit suicide if cyberbullied. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10–19 since 2001 when digital communication via smartphones became more widespread among teens.
How many more smartphone-equipped children is your unchecked and unaccountable rapid-fire app harming this moment as they log onto your platform 40 times a day by your own account.
Where is the accountability for Snapchat and other social media platforms?
You hide behind the outdated legal protections afforded you by Section 230 (originally part of the federal Communications Decency Act) instead of working to find real solutions to the brain and physical health of the world’s future adults whose minds are still developing.
Know this: My husband and I, and hundreds of other survivor parents and families harmed by the defective product(s) you are peddling refuse to have Nate’s legacy and that of the other children we have lost become nothing more than statistics lost to time. This is why we started Buckets Over Bullying, a non-profit initiative of The Bronstein Family Foundation to combat and create accountability for cyberbullies and those who enable them.
You can do more. You must do more!
In August 2022, facing increasing pressure from litigators, regulators and lawmakers in the wake of numerous child deaths specifically connected to Snapchat use, including my son’s, your platform, Snapchat, announced the creation of your “Family Center” to “help parents get more insight into who their teens are friends with on Snapchat, and who they have been communicating with, without revealing any of the substance of those conversations.”
As noted by the Organization for Social Media Safety among other reviewers, Snapchat’s “Family Center” as designed provides little meaningful impact on child safety, and is more of a family-branded talking point for the company in an attempt to stave off criticism and liability. Let’s take a close look, just to be sure. Your Family Center:
- Provides little new transparency and information. Parents have always been able to see their child’s friend list by directly reviewing their child’s Snapchat account.
- Fails to provide parents any insight or record of the substance of any Snapchat conversations being conducted by their children.
- Seemingly offers no ability for parents to be alerted when their child has a new Snapchat connection.
- Provides parents no ability whatsoever to locate and/or monitor a child’s secret Snapchat accounts that they can easily employ for high-risk activities without any parental oversight whatsoever.
- Provides no access to the child’s frequency of communication with users or any saved photos.
- Provides parents with no way to increase protection against the danger of using Snapchat with known peers.
- Fails to address and give parents’ safety tools to safeguard their children from the most common cyber dangers facing them: interactions with peers they actually know in person who fuel cyberbullying, sexting, depression, self-harm, violence, sexual harassment, hate speech, and substance abuse.
You built Snapchat. You, the co-founder and CEO, need to be accountable and do better to protect young people. The largest brain study in the world notes, “From the ages of about 10 to 19, (experience) dynamic changes in brain networks involved in learning how to process emotions and motivations around different experiences, as teens navigate life.”
Hiding behind current social media provider legal liability protections of Section 230 and the privacy rights of children from their parents to keep children’s Snaps from parents are hollow arguments that will no longer shield you and other social media platform operators. Section 230 will no longer protect you long term. Your self-generated claims of protecting privacy rights of children only protects you and keeps parents from being able to parent and protect their children’s wellbeing.
You claim your company is about contributing to “human progress.” Progress and the growing body of evidence of the harms Snapchat is breeding requires you, your platform and its operators to change their behavior.
Tobacco, vaping, alcohol, gun, toy, food and automobile companies have all made changes — both voluntarily and forcibly — when confronted with the harm their products were causing children.
You publicly proclaim how your company is focused on the physical and emotional health and well-being of Snapchat employees.
The time has come for you as the controlling stockholder, head of day-to-day company management and all the strategic investments made by Snapchat to also start caring about the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of children and young people you profit from by keeping them engaged on your platform.
You need to add the word “safety” to your vocabulary. Not once in your public remarks during Snap Inc.’s last earnings report or on a subsequent lengthy television interview you did on CNBC did you ever use the word “safety” when speaking about your 375 million daily active users, a significant portion of them under the age of 20.
Unless you act, you and Snapchat can no longer claim you are contributing to “human progress,” when children continue to be needlessly harmed and die because they are engaging on your unsafe platform.
The time is now to step up and acknowledge that Snapchat must do more or face the same fate as the exploding Ford Pinto and Big Tobacco’s Joe Camel.
One of too many grieving parents,
If you are in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Lifeline provides confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat. Para ayuda en español, llame al 988.
 A 2022 National Institutes of Health (NIH)-backed clinical study of more than 10,000 kids found that kids who experience cyberbullying face a measurable increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts
 Targets of cyberbullying are at a greater risk than others of both self-harm and suicidal behaviors (John et al., 2018)
 Students who experienced bullying or cyberbullying are nearly 2 times more likely to attempt suicide (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018)
 Suicide ideation and attempts among adolescents have nearly doubled since 2008 (Plemmons et al., 2018)