Snap Inc. is taking steps to make sure fake news and obscene content will not become an issue on Snapchat by introducing new guidelines for its editorial partners on Monday. The Los Angeles startup is introducing these new rules in an effort to ensure these issues do not hurt the Snapchat brand or mislead its users as they have on other social apps.

To head off these problems, Snapchat's new guidelines strictly prohibit the company's media partners from posting any articles with inaccurate content or information that has not been properly fact checked. Publishers must also ensure that any links included in their content "must not be deceptive, misleading, or fraudulent," Snap said in a statement.

Additionally, "publishers are not permitted to impersonate or claim to be another person or entity, create a false presence for an organization, or otherwise use the content in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others," the company told Inc.

These new guidelines come shortly after an election cycle riddled with misleading stories that were often shared virally across the internet. These types of stories, often described as "fake news," have become a focus of criticism for social networks. Facebook, in particular, came under heavy scrutiny for not doing enough to help its users separate flat out lies from factual news. The social-network giant says it's now taking measures to discourage users from sharing hoax content.

Snapchat did not suffer from those kinds of issues, as its Discover feature is limited to content from just a few dozen carefully curated media partners. However, the company had not updated its guidelines since Discover first launched two years ago. With Snap's initial public offering expected to come sometime in the next few months, perhaps as soon as March, now would be an awkward time to be hit with a Facebook-like fake news epidemic.

"We take the responsibility of being a source of news, entertainment, and information for our community of more than 150 million daily active Snapchatters very seriously," the company said. "Snapchatters are curious about the world. They want to know about what's important, not just what's popular. They want to see and experience new things--unique stories from credible voices and varied perspectives."

Aside from fake news, Snap's guidelines were also updated to deter its media partners from using sensitive, profane, obscene, overly sexualized, or violent content. The new rules prohibit publishers from sharing this type of content whenever it is not "sufficiently newsworthy to justify the depiction of material."

On Discover, it is often easy to find publishers who use risqué pictures as a way to lure in users, and that type of content has already created legal problems for Snap.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the company in July, alleging that Discover was intentionally exposing minors to this kind of content. "Millions of parents in the United States today are unaware that Snapchat is curating and publishing this profoundly sexual and offensive content to their children," the complaint reads.

Snap stresses that its updated guidelines were coming regardless of this lawsuit, but nonetheless, it's worth watching how its media partners react to this change.

The new guidelines are now in effect. In early February, the company will also roll out a new age-gating tool that will allow publishers to restrict users under the age of 18 from viewing their content. Publishers will be allowed to use this age-gating feature whenever they feel it necessary, but they will be strictly required to use it whenever their content contains "nudity, pornographic imagery, and other indecent, obscene, or profane content that is inappropriate for users under age 18."

"We strongly believe in listening to and learning from our community," the company said. "Snapchatters continue to teach us how they like to use our products, and we wanted to be responsive to feedback we have heard from both viewers and publishers."

Published on: Jan 23, 2017