Snapchat is rolling out new safety tools aimed at protecting teens from sextortion

Damond Isiaka
5 Min Read

New York
CNN
 — 

Snapchat is working to make it harder for teenagers to be contacted on the app by people they don’t know, its latest effort to stop the sexual and financial exploitation scam known as sextortion.

The company on Tuesday announced a set of new safety features, including expanded warning pop-ups that appear when a teen receives a message from someone they don’t share mutual friends with or have in their contacts. Now, teens will also receive a warning message if they receive a chat from a user who has been blocked or reported by others or who is from a region where the teen’s other contacts aren’t located, “signs that the person may be a scammer,” Snapchat said in a blog post Tuesday.

And Snapchat will now prevent the delivery of friend requests for teens to or from an account that they don’t share mutual friends with that is also located in regions often associated with scammers.

In addition to expanding Snapchat’s broader suite of youth safety measures, the new features are aimed specifically at preventing financial sextortion, a worrying and growing type of scam across social media where bad actors gain the trust of young users, convince them to send sexual or explicit photos and then demand payment in exchange for keeping the pictures a secret.

Snapchat will now send pop-up warnings to teens when they receive a chat from a user who has been reported by other users or who is based in a region where that teens' contacts are not located.

“These features were designed to better protect teens from potential online harms and to enhance the real-friend connections that make Snapchat so unique,” Snap’s Global Head of Platform Safety Jacqueline Beauchere said in an exclusive statement to CNN ahead of the announcement.

Law enforcement officials have in recent years warned of an uptick in online sextortion scams, in which bad actors, typically located overseas, target children and teens, often with profiles that appear to belong to friendly fellow teenagers. In some cases, sextortion has resulted in suicides.

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Meta in April also announced new features aimed at combating sextortion, including informing users when they’ve interacted with someone who engaged in financial sextortion. And the chief executives of Meta and Snap, along with other social media leaders, were called to testify earlier this year in a Senate subcommittee hearing about their efforts to protect young people from online exploitation.

Also among Snapchat’s announcements on Tuesday are improvements to the app’s blocking tools, which will prevent users from simply creating new accounts to get around a block. Now, when a user blocks another account, any new accounts created on the same device will also automatically be blocked.

Snapchat is also introducing more frequent reminders to all users, including teens, about their location settings on the app’s “Snap Map” feature, which is toggled off by default but which users can update to share their location live with friends. The company said it will make it possible for users to update their location settings, remove their location from the map and customize which friends they share their location with – all in one spot on the app.

The updates build on Snapchat’s existing teen safety features, which include a “Family Center” where parents can supervise the behavior of 13- to 17-year-old users, and mechanisms for removing age-inappropriate content.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health matters, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (or 800-273-8255) to connect with a trained counselor or visit the NSPL site.

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