Senator's staff poses as a teen on Snapchat, gets lewd content, invite to 'sexualized video game'

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Sen. Mike Lee said Tuesday that his staffers created a Snapchat account posing as a young teenager in order to look into potential hazards facing minors who use social media. They were quickly inundated with sexually charged content.

The Utah Republican said his staff didn’t select any content preferences for the account but simply entered a name, a birth year and an email address.

“When they opened the Discover page on Snapchat with its default settings, they were immediately bombarded with content that I can most politely describe as wildly inappropriate for a child,” Mr. Lee told Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube at a Senate hearing.

Mr. Lee said the fake child’s account received recommendations for an “invite to play an online sexualized video game,” tips on why the child should not go to bars alone, and articles about “porn stars,” among other things.

Pressed by Mr. Lee about why Snapchat recommended such content, Snap Inc. Vice President Jennifer Stout said that she was “unfamiliar” with the content shown to his fake account.

“I want to make clear that what, content and community guidelines suggest that any online sexual video games should be age-gated to 18 and above,” said Ms. Stout. “So I am unclear why that content would have shown up in an account that was for a 14-year-old.”

Mr. Lee described the fake account as representing either a 13-year-old or 15-year-old child.

Ms. Stout added that while “tastes vary” about the content Snapchat promotes within its app, she said the content displayed there is not hurtful or illegal.

Mr. Lee responded that he thought the app ratings for various tech platforms were inappropriate.

“We all know that there’s content on Snapchat and on YouTube among many other places that’s not appropriate for children ages 12 or 13 and up,” Mr. Lee said.

Senators’ staffs pretending to be children online has become a recurring feature of Senate hearings into tech platforms’ alleged harms to kids. Last month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, revealed that his office posed as a 13-year-old girl on Instagram to learn about how kids experience the platform.

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