Jan 21, 2020

How Snapchat has dodged the techlash over speech issues

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel says his company has managed to avoid heavy criticism over speech issues by clearly dividing private, largely unregulated communications from heavily moderated public broadcasts.

Why it matters: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all struggled in recent years over where to draw the line on permitted speech.

What they're saying: Responding to a question from Axios while speaking at the DLD conference in Munich on Sunday, Spiegel said that Snapchat has modeled how it treats speech after existing institutions "One of the things we have been able to do is borrow significantly from history," Spiegel said.

  • In private communication, Spiegel said, people expect a conversation to remain private — and if the government wants access, it needs to get a warrant.
  • By contrast, he said, broadcasters have always been subject to a range of restrictions. "There's a different level of responsibility when you are talking to an audience that's that large," he said.

Online platforms' biggest problems lie in the middle ground between these two, Spiegel said — here, there have been powerfully positive uses of social media, but also incredibly damaging ones.

  • "I think as a society we haven't yet decided how we want to tackle that and think about that new tool," he said. "I do think that is sort of the existential question of the moment."
  • That uncertainty, he said, is showing up in the debate over whether to revisit Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which legally protects platforms that post users' speech.

Snapchat plays in the middle ground, too, but it does so cautiously, whereas that space is where Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all built their empires.

  • On Snapchat, user-generated public stories can get pulled into stories around major public events on the Snap Map.
  • These stories can be widely consumed by anyone publicly, but are designed to be consumed at a more local level — by users who are located near a natural disaster, for instance.

Be smart: Spiegel's "look to the broadcasters" argument is one he's been refining for years (here he is making it in 2018). That means he's learned another old rule of broadcasting: You have to tell people the same thing over and over again before they will get the message.

Go deeper: Snap continues its acquisition spree with video animation startup

Go deeper

Snap stock sinks after mixed Q4 earnings

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Snap Inc.'s stock was down 11% Tuesday in after-hours trading after the company reported it fell short on Wall Street's revenue expectations.

Yes, but: The company otherwise did pretty well. It turned its first-ever profit on an adjusted basis and grew its user base for the fourth consecutive quarter. It also provided positive guidance for the quarter ahead.

Scoop: Snapchat's new wellness push

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Snapchat is launching a new set of tools and custom content around mental health and wellness, sources tell Axios. One tool includes a search function that surfaces health and wellness resources on topics including depression, suicide and anxiety.

Why it matters: It's the first product launch around what will be a bigger health and wellness push from Snapchat that will be rolled out in the next few months.

Justice Department takes aim at Big Tech's shield

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration is turning up the heat on one of Big Tech's most important legal protections, as the Justice Department convenes a debate over changing a law that protects platforms from suits over content their users post.

Why it matters: The threat to remove immunity granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is one of a handful of weapons that Washington is mulling using against Facebook, Google, and other tech giants. Trump administration enthusiasm for revoking or revising the protection could give such proposals a boost in Congress.