Snapchat’s got a porn problem. The red-hot social media app has been inundated by spambots – fake accounts that send unsolicited “snaps” to users – often consisting of nudes with advertising text. This development, unsurprisingly, has caused quite a bit of hand-wringing considering the service is most widely used by kids (legally speaking.)
It’s reminiscent of social media poster child for failure MySpace’s own spambot problem in the mid 2000s. But while the flood of racy (and more importantly unauthorized) advertising pics on Snapchat certainly needs to be tamed lest they meet MySpace’s fate, the trend does indicate that Snapchat is getting attention from some unlikely pioneers. And potential investors should pay attention.
Porn: The "Shock Troops" of Technology
In 2010, CNN published an article entitled, “In the tech world, porn quietly leads the way” that asserted a widely known but rarely discussed truism in technology. Specifically, that the pornography industry tends to adopt technological advances before the majority of the populace. “(Pornographers are) kind of the shock troops,” tech history professor Jonathan Coopersmith said, noting the industry's long history of being early adopters. Looking back through the evolution of tech in media, Coopersmith is right: the transition to film to video to the internet to social media has almost always been spearheaded, then championed by, the porn industry.
This should be taken with two grains of salt. One, the porn industry is by no means monolith. There was no giant symposium wherein pornographers got together and decided to get in on Snapchat. Two, much of the racy advertising flooding Snapchat does not always explicitly advertise pornography, oftentimes encouraging users to sign up for messenger service Kik.
While the pornography industry does not move in a solitary block, the innovators have tended to drag the rest of the industry with them. Much like traditional cable is being dragged kicking and screaming into the streaming age, so will social media advertisers be compelled to adapt to services like Snapchat.
And while the adverts on Snapchat might promote services like Kik, a little following the trail reveals that roads tend to lead back to pornography.
What the (Real) Advertisers Can Take Away
But what the spambots have proven is how useful and easy Snapchat can be for advertising. Snaps – the photos with or without accompanying text that live for 10 seconds before disappearing forever – are a little understood development in communication, less so as an advertising vehicle. But it’s clear that spammers understand the system’s potential in both arenas.
As a fast-growing concern Snapchat has many, many kinks to work out. The Jan. 1 security breach brushed off by 23-year-old Evan Spiegel that saw millions of users phone numbers leaked is more damning than he gives credit to. But if Snapchat can control their user’s privacy, and filter out (or at least learn to work with) their first “advertisers” Snapchat could prove itself to be less just another social media app and more an innovative new platform for reaching the much-coveted teenage advertising demo.
That’s a big “if,” but not far from the realm of possibility. And say what you will about pornography. But when it comes to predicting tech trends, they’re usually right on the money.
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