Unsurprisingly, given that the social network is occupied largely by adolescents and teenagers, Snapchat’s third-party “Discover” section, which features content created by news organizations like MTV and the Daily Mail, is one of the most hormone-driven places on the internet — filled, generally, with bikini pictures and sex tips, not entirely unlike the magazine rack at the supermarket checkout line.
Or it was until today. Earlier this morning, Snapchat changed the rules for the handful of publishers on its Discover platform in an effort to tamp down on misleading headlines and lede images. According to the New York Times, “the new rules more explicitly restrict publishers from posting questionable pictures on Discover that do not have news or editorial value.” A recent example was an MTV article about “the thirstiest person on earth,” accompanied by a photo of a woman in a bikini, despite the article being about a man. (Perhaps the real thirstiest person on earth was the teenager who first clicked on the image.) The other big change is that publishers will soon have the option to age-gate content that might be deemed inappropriate for minors.
In July, Snapchat was sued in a class-action lawsuit over articles that appeared in its Discover section. Those articles are produced independently by outlets like MTV, BuzzFeed, Vice, and Cosmo, and Snapchat has stated that it fully supports their editorial autonomy. That’s how minors ended up getting served articles with headlines like “What It Is Really Like to Let People Finger You in Public.” Those articles reach millions of young people every month thanks to Snapchat’s unmatched cachet among millennials.
The company’s attempt to clean up its act comes just ahead of a all-but-confirmed initial public offering, and the guidelines it’s bolstering are meant to more accurately convey what an article is really about. From a business standpoint, Discover is set apart by its limited space. Only a handful of outlets are granted the ability to publish in the section, which is automatically shown to every user. This gives Snapchat a lot of influence over what can appear in the app and how it appears — influence that they haven’t wielded, but do hold. To ignore Snapchat’s more stringent guidelines is to risk losing one of those coveted Discover slots.